Shedding light on the ultimate volunteer

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Christmas lights – some love putting them up – some don’t.

Then there’s Ron Gwaltney, a Topeka man who helps put up about a million Christmas lights every year.

When it comes to Santa’s naughty and nice list, it’s a safe bet to assume Gwaltney is on the nice list.

“A lot of times I’ll just drive over here after work,” said Gwaltney, while referring to TARC’s Winter Wonderland light display out at Lake Shawnee. “A little bit before it opens up at 5:30 p.m. or so, and then I’ll just walk through the displays.”

Gwaltney’s been volunteering at Winter Wonderland for about 18 years, checking to make sure the lights displays are working just right. Even sometimes checking them twice.

Gwaltney’s been a volunteer for TARC’s Winter Wonderland drive-thru light display out at Lake Shawnee in Topeka for so long, he’s the man the organization credits for making it possible, “Oh, I don’t know,” said Gwaltney jokingly.

He may not want to to admit it because he’s so humble, but he’s the mastermind behind making the Christmas light displays move. Whether it’s adding extra lights that go off at certain times, or building contraptions to make it happen.

He’s so dedicated and serious about making the displays great, he works on them from home in his free time, “My family has to put up with me flashing lights in the basement, and then the living room ” Gwaltney said. “All while I’m programming things to figure out what the next displays going to look like.”

For Gwaltney – who’s an electrical engineer – it’s more than just tinkering; it’s personal, “My first connection was a lady down that street, that was a lady that used TARC services.”

TARC, a Shawnee County organization helps disabled children and adults get the services, support and advocacy they need. Shortly after he started volunteering for the organization, his niece was born with down syndrome, “That’s certainly been part of the whole passion I guess,” Gwaltney said.

Winter Wonderland is not open yet. The two mile holiday light display opens the Wednesday before Thanksgiving every year and closes on December 31st. KSNT News throws the ceremonial switch during our six o’clock newscast. This year will kick off the 20th year of Winter Wonderland.


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