Minnesota Couple Lights Up Christmas

Hometown Heroes, People, Seasonal, Traditions
on December 16, 2001

When the holidays roll around, Bob and Sandy Kendall share the spirit the best way they know how. They decorate their home in Chanhassen, Minn., (pop. 20,321) with religious and secular displays, more than 300,000 Christmas lights, and set out a small box for donations to charity.

“It’s a lot of work, and I don’t do as many as I should, but I guess I do enough,” says Bob, who begins putting up the decorations and lights in September.

“We do it, first and foremost, because it’s the Lord’s birthday,” Sandy says. “And we wanted to make people smile for six weeks out of the year.”

The Kendalls, who own a real estate appraisal business, always have put out a large Christmas display, but when they moved into their Chanhassen home in 1994 and discovered it had ample electrical capacity, their large display got even larger, doubling in size.

“When we bought it, we changed the water heater and heat to gas. But we had these two huge electrical panels, each with 200 amps,” Sandy recalls. “I looked at Bob, he looked at me, and we both just thought—Christmas.”

Tens of thousands of people visit the Kendalls’ home each Christmas, and the couple actively encourages visitors to park their cars and walk through their yard, which features a life-size manger scene, toy soldiers, Santa’s workshop, and exhibit of holiday traditions around the world.

“It’s one of the most awesome displays I’ve ever seen,” says Mike Frickstad of St. Michael, Minn., who visits the “Christmas House,” as neighbors call it, nearly every year, often bringing out-of-town guests with him.

Bob sometimes dons a Santa suit and makes appearances to take Christmas wishes from thrilled children, and a couple of times the Kendalls have added live reindeer to their elaborate display.

The collection box was added in 1998 after numerous visitors wanted to donate money to thank the Kendalls for the display and to help defray electrical costs and supplies, which can top $4,000 a year. Over the years, grateful visitors have dropped thousands of dollars into the box for charity.

“In 1999, we raised over $13,000,” Sandy says. “In 2000, it was about $7,600. But the weather was terrible last year, bitter cold, and that meant more people stayed in their cars.”

The money is donated to charities such as the Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, the Union Gospel Mission, Feed the World, and the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Besides the donations to charity, the Kendalls know their display touches lives in other ways.

“We received an unsigned letter last summer,” Sandy says. “The person writing it said that they’d battled depression for some time and had become suicidal. Somehow she ended up on our street, and the display brought the first happiness she’d had in a long time. Soon after, she was able to seek treatment for the depression. But not only that, the recovery from the depression led her to begin training for a career in helping others fight depression, too. And she wanted us to know what our display meant.”

The Kendalls carve time from their busy schedule to decorate their home, which is lighted each night from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Each year, the Kendalls rent a truck with a hydraulic lift, allowing Bob to hang lights in the 60-foot trees that line their yard.

“He should start early in the fall,” Sandy says, wryly, “but while he’s blessed with many gifts, time management isn’t one of them, so it’s usually a rush.”

Still, the effort is nothing compared to the joy it brings.

“So many of these people actually want to come back night after night, year after year,” Bob says. “I see the joy on the faces, not just toddlers, but all the way up to 90-year-olds. It uplifts everybody’s spirits.”