Kevin and Jennifer McAlexander of Grinnell are shown in the decorated antique sleigh on loan from Howard McDonough at last year’s Jingle Bell Holiday. The couple and a host of volunteers have been in charge of decorating Grinnell’s Central Park in time for Jingle Bell Holiday for five years. Jennifer handles the planning and organization while Kevin uses his many trades to make her ideas happen.
By J.O. Parker
Like magic, Grinnell’s Central Park comes alive with lights and holiday decorations to kick off the annual Jingle Bell Holiday.
This year’s Jingle Bell Holiday is Friday, Nov. 18 from 5 – 8 p.m.
It’s all possible thanks to the efforts and hard work of Kevin and Jennifer McAlexander and a host of volunteers numbering in the 50s.
Kevin and Jennifer, owners of Hawkeye Lock and Security in Grinnell, have been in charge of decorating Central Park for the holiday season for five years.
Jennifer handles the planning and organization while Kevin uses his many trades to make her ideas happen. Kevin, whom she affectionately calls Clark Griswold from the movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” hangs all the overhead lights. They are joined by the volunteers in setting up the rest of the decorations and displays.
Jennifer said it all came about following completion of the Central Park remodel project in 2018.
“The Grinnell Chamber held a planning meeting for holiday décor ideas for the park in conjunction with the Jingle Bell Holiday,” said Jennifer.
“People at the meeting tossed around a few ideas to think about,” she said. “A couple weeks later, I presented some ideas to chamber staff on how to implement a plan for the park utilizing many of the ideas shared at the meeting.”
That first year, Kevin, Jennifer and the volunteers pulled it all together in six weeks.
And it has grown from there.
“I recruited section leaders and then those section leaders recruited volunteers to help them,” said Jennifer. “Many of them are still with us today.”
Section leaders include Michelle Butler, Kerri Olson, Time and Gailanne Dill, Bill Gruman, Esther Ware and Jim White.
Volunteers serve in several capacities including hanging decorations, serving as Park Patrol and working as Handyman Helpers throughout the holiday season.
“That is who I call when I need help with minor repairs,” said Jennifer of the handyman helpers. “We couldn’t do this without the awesome team and many volunteers.”
The park features numerous decorations including many lighted trees and a decorated Central Park Gazebo. Other items at the park include:
Photo cutout boards painted by Gailanne Dill of Grinnell
An antique sleigh on loan from Howard McDonough
Lighted and oversized wooden candy canes
Evergreen Gnomes around the park
And the big evergreen tree in the center of the park which lights at the start of Jingle Bell Holiday.
New this year are two additional lighted arches, giving the park a lighted arch at all four entrances to the park.
“I tell people I write my own Hallmark movie,” said Jennifer of getting ready for Jingle Bell Holiday.
“I bring the community together to create the display,” she said. “We always have a few obstacles to work through. Then we bring the town together for the big reveal with the mayor doing the countdown to lighting at Jingle Bell Holiday.”
Smiling, Jennifer said someone once asked if she decorated their own home for the holidays.
“No,” she answered. “I decorate the town.”
Jennifer said the greatest joys in the project are watching people enjoy the park and the many thanks of appreciation she and Kevin receive.
Central Park decorations will be on display through Friday, Dec. 31.
Jennifer McAlexander has some holiday decorating fun while her husband, Kevin, hangs lights in Grinnell’s Central Park in preparation for Jingle Bell Holiday and the Christmas season. The couple, along with a host of volunteers, has been in charge of decorating Central Park for five years. The lights in Central Park will be turned on at 5:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18.