By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Rotary’s Winter Wonderland is perhaps the center of the holiday season in Marshfield. For those that love to get into the spirit of the season, there is no better place to go than this display of over 1 million holiday-themed LED lights located at Wildwood Park and Zoo.
Not only is the display visually dazzling, but the theme of giving is ever present. Admission is free for all Winter Wonderland visitors, but
donations of non-perishable food items or monetary contributions are encouraged to support area food pantries. Over its first eight years in existence, Rotary’s Winter Wonderland has given 347,000 food items to 22 area food pantries.
Co-chair of Rotary Winter Wonderland’s steering committee, Dan Knoeck, said that now over 50,000 canned items are donated on an annual basis. Knoeck added that he enjoys participating in a project that gives back to those in need.
“I guess for me it’s that I’ve been blessed and work in a great setting here, live in a great community, and realize that there are people in need. You want to do something about it. This seems like a good way to make a difference,” Knoeck said.
The local Rotary organization and community volunteers began setting up the display this year on Oct. 18.
“That first day we had over 200 volunteers putting up lights and helping with displays,” Knoeck said. “It’s a lot of time that gets put into it.”
Volunteer groups from local businesses and organizations run the donation collection efforts each night at Winter Wonderland. Donation stations are located at the main walk-in gate as well as a booth set up for those that choose to drive through the display. Volunteers also sort the donations and pack them in boxes for transport to area food pantries.
Every Saturday evening horse-drawn wagon rides through the light display will be offered, free of charge, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Music will be performed inside Winter Wonderland’s heated gazebo throughout December, including a concert by Columbus Catholic High School students on Dec. 14. Santa will be present every evening from 6-8 p.m. prior to Christmas. Duffy’s Aircraft Sales and Leasing will also conduct flights over the light display, and those interested can find out more information at duffysaircraft.com.
Marshfield Clinic sponsors a photo night with Santa and Mrs. Claus inside the heated gazebo on Friday, Dec. 12 from 5-9 p.m. The last night to visit Winter Wonderland is Dec. 31.
Marshfield Area Special Olympics, the Opportunity Development Center, and Marshfield High School students also play a major role in the success of Winter Wonderland.
Marshfield Area Special Olympians—assisted by the people of the Opportunity Development Center, an organization that works to provide meaningful employment for those with disabilities—spend time each February and March testing, sorting, and wrapping lights and extension cords for the following year. Marshfield High School computer science students program the “Light Rhapsody” show at the center of Winter Wonderland.
“Those (collaborations) have been huge,” Knoeck said.
Knoeck added that for him personally, seeing such a large project from the initial stages through to its completion is satisfying.
“I like to see things get done. So I’m all about figuring out how to make it happen and then get it done. I like to see things finished and working,” Knoeck said.
For more information about the events, history, and how to get involved in Rotary’s Winter Wonderland, visit rotarywinterwonderland.com.