Improving the Community in which we work – Tom Kohnen, Datotel Senior Engineer

Datotel’s core values are at the heart of everything we do.  One of those core values is improving the community in which we work.  Tom Kohnen, Senior Engineer, has a story of giving that embodies that core value and captures the spirit of the season.  Here is his story:

Well…..It all started when I moved to a little town in Southern Illinois (New Athens) which sponsored a Christmas Decorating Contest with winners receiving money for placing.  I had just gotten married, bought a house with my wife and found out about this little contest and how the same people were always winning every year.  I thought it was time for a change and decided to invest into a new hobby, although not knowing how expensive it could get.  I started buying patterns to make Wooden decorations (Winfield Collection) that I could put out in the yard along with some of the lights I already owned.  It then expended to wire frames, and finally to animation with computers.

The very first year I did it, my yard was fairly small and had stuff everywhere.   However, it was good enough to place in the contest which was judged by a group of people from out of town.  Not winning the Grand Prize seemed to motivate me even more and the next year I added the wire frames and put things into scenes, built a Happy Holiday’s sign to put on my roof and added more lights.   This was the year the title shifted to a new face and the competition was on!!!

I bought another house in town with a little over an acre of land and plenty of room in the front and on the side for my decorations.  I started moving to computer controlled displays and continued to add more wire frames and wooden decorations.  I started to host Open Houses, where people could come on a designated night to meet Santa and make donations to Toys for Tots and from there it has grown.

Kohnen Christmas 2009

I am now up to about 50,000 lights, broadcast the music over a FM Transmitter (only transmits basically outside the house), synchronized the display to  music and have a Virtual Santa Claus in my front window that makes it look like he is in my house delivering presents, waving and eating cookies.  I have run the other front runners out of business, eventually buying all the decorations of one of the competitors and making the other one stop decorating completely.  My neighbors kid me about not putting up lights on their house because I have enough up for all of them.  I have gone mad, they say!!

I still hold an Open House every year to either collect food for the local food bank or collect for Toys for Tots.  It depends on if the Food Bank needs donations or not.  I only enter the town contest now to keep it running should their not be enough entries.  The contest now is based on votes from the community, complete with a donation for each vote, and those funds go to Toys for Tots.

I enjoy doing it and love to watch the kids faces when they see Santa in the window along with all the lights.  It is fun to look out the window and see people standing there with their windows rolled down and the music blasting to the lights.  It is amazing to watch the number of cars go by nightly when waiting for me to turn the lights on, especially this year!!!

I try to change the display every year, moving things around and adding new things so it never looks the same or gets boring to people.  But I mostly do it for my two kids, who just love it when the lights come on.  One is 2 ½ and the other is 9 and they do what they can to help me.  I have a great wife who supports this expensive hobby and helps me everywhere, whether it is 60 degrees or 10 degrees outside.  I have great neighbors who love the lights and do not complain about the traffic or me using their yard.  I have great friends that come to help every year and or donate things I need.

It just is a joyful time of year for me and hopefully all the people that see the display.

Thanks for your interest.

Tom “Mr. Griswold” Kohnen

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