Thefts from Lemon Park Lights put damper on holiday spirit in Pratt

Courtney Blankenship
Pratt Tribune
This blue-lit wolf display from the Lemon Park Lights collection was returned Monday, December 28, as The Pratt Tribune was investigating stolen displays. It was stolen a previous year and returned by someone who found it in their basement, according to Deb Goyen, Lemon Park Lights organizer.

Many Pratt locals, and visitors, enjoy the Lemon Park Lights displays each Christmas, but this year thefts have taken some of the joy away for viewers and those who work so hard to get the displays ready and set up. 

The very first night the Lemon Park Lights were lit this year, one of the pheasants went missing, and around that same time, several strings of meteor lights were stolen from two trees. 

Additionally, the goose by the fisherman at the lake and Woodstock from the ‘Peanuts’ display were stolen from the park. Volunteer Ron Miller, head of maintenance, designer, and assistant for Lemon Park Lights for many years, has already been able to rebuild or replace some of the items, but others remain missing.

“On or around the evening of December 22, all but four displays in the ‘12 Days [of Christmas]’ plus all trees, a penguin from the polar bear scene, and the traveling frog were laid out on the ground and unplugged, with many other displays unplugged as well,” Miller said. “The police have been notified on each occasion and smaller displays tied down with some cameras installed around the park, but this is frustrating.”

Deb Goyen, the originator and organizer behind the Lemon Park Lights, said there was no damage done to the pushed over lights but it took time to set things up again.

Several volunteers have patrolled the park on their own, but in regard to implementing cameras, Goyen said it is difficult to put them everywhere and there is the fear that they could get stolen as well.

“This is so frustrating when this kind of stuff happens,” Goyen said. “We set this park up for everyone to enjoy. It’s free, everything is donated, it’s all volunteer effort, and a few [people] just have to ruin it for everyone else.”

When the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism heard what had been taken this year, Goyen said they offered to replace the wildlife light displays.

“So Ron made two more geese for us, and I was able to order another pheasant,” Goyen said. “The pheasant is made in Utah, and it may not make it in time for this year, but he’s trying.”

It’s difficult to want to replace things, however, if they might just get stolen again, Goyen said.

“We’ve had three wolves stolen over the years. It’s just not worth trying to replace it again, and it’s expensive,” Goyen said. “Most of our displays-- especially now-- are memorials for family and friends. I really hate it when any of those are stolen.”

Every year, since the Lemon Park Lights displays began in 1991, there have been items stolen. This year, however, there were more than usual. 

Goyen said that having Miller around to rebuild and replace stolen or vandalized displays has helped keep the costs down.

“I used lots of commercial vendors over the years. Ron and I can’t really remember how or when he got involved, but he knew what I had paid for some displays, and he said he could build that for lots less,” Goyen said. “He slowly started building some displays for me, and now, he can build almost anything I can come up with.”

The City of Pratt Police Department did not respond to several calls and emails requesting information about the criminal aspect of the stolen light displays. It is not known if there are any theft suspects under suspicion at this time.

The Lemon Park Lights are turned on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. They are in place this year until January 3. Takedown efforts will happen on January 9.

"We wIll be taking displays down at 1 p.m. on Jan 9," Goyen said. "If any business wants to take theirs down sooner, just let Ron or I know and we’ll have the shed unlocked."

If anyone has information about missing or stolen lighted displays from Lemon Park, they are encouraged to contact the Pratt Police Department at 672-5551.