New Albany’s Bobby Owens lights up the night with love
BY LAURA ROSS | PHOTOS BY CHRISTIAN WATSON
He’s been called the Clark Griswold of New Albany more than once.
Bobby Owens doesn’t mind the reference to the beloved character from the film National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation one bit. “I’ve been a Christmas nut since I was a little boy,” he laughed, “I can’t get enough of it.”
Owens, 64, decorates his New Albany home with more than 60,000 Christmas lights each year. And, inflatable characters. And, trains. And, animated characters. And, so much more.
Owens began his decorating journey 30 years ago on a much smaller scale, but the holiday spirit took hold and each year, his collection of Christmas décor grew. His mother loved Christmas and Owens told her, “‘One day I’ll decorate like you did, but will do even more,’” he said. “When I bought my first house, I started with a few strings of lights on the bushes and windows, but then I sold that house and got married, and it started getting bigger every year.”
Today, his house wows neighbors and draws crowds of holiday spectators from near and far.
Owens begins plotting his holiday magic in September. He makes a list and checks it more than twice, testing lights, replacing bulbs and making strategic piles of decorations in preparation for placing them in the yard and his large garage. Working alone most of the time, he starts placing things the second week of October and climbs on the roof to add the lights while the weather is still relatively pleasant.
The switch is flipped Thanksgiving weekend, and the house glows until just after New Year.
Owens, who has worked at Koetter Woodworking in Starlight for 27 years, loves to craft wood into holiday magic. He’s crafted a 14-foot long train with four cars, built a 14-foot tall Christmas tree and added toy soldiers in guard houses along his driveway. He ticks off his inventory like Santa reading his list.
“I know where everything goes, and I have a system that works,” he said. “I have a hot air balloon on the side of the house with three animated reindeer and Santa; I have wire deer; I have snowmen, and animated characters in the garage. I also have two large nutcrackers, wreaths and garland for the windows and door. I use icicle lights; I use red, green, and white lights; I have multicolored lights and LED lights. I use it all.”
The cheer continues inside the Owens’ house as well, with five Christmas trees and heavily decorated basement, living and dining rooms and more. “We just love Christmas,” he explained.
He has an agreement with his patient wife, Becky, that if he buys something new, something old must go away. Each year, he changes the theme and look of the full garage, which is transformed into a barn, with Styrofoam panels painted to look like Santa’s reindeers’ stalls – artwork crafted 10 years ago by students in New Albany High School’s art department. The garage features a working train, animated characters, Christmas figurines and scenes, and an 85-year-old aluminum color wheel tree that belonged to Owens’ grandmother.
“I encourage people to walk up to the garage doors and look inside,” Owens said. “I want kids to see inside the garage. I love to see the looks on their faces and their eyes get so big.”
But alas, lamented Owens, “my wife doesn’t like me getting on the roof anymore. I have a large sleigh and reindeer that went across the roof, but it’s hard to maneuver alone. My wife didn’t like me on the roof with it, so I haven’t used it for several years, but this year, I put it in the yard instead.”
All that work adds up, with an electric bill that jumps by around $100 for December, but the reactions Owens receives from spectators are priceless.
“I’ve been doing this for so long that adults who visited as children years ago are now bringing their children to see the house. I have grandchildren now, also, who love it and that makes me happy,” he said.
“Many families stop and ask to take their holiday family photos in front of the garage,” he added. “A favorite story I love is the year that it was raining heavily, and I had turned everything off. I had a knock on my door, and there was a large van from an area retirement home out front. The driver asked if I would turn the lights on for the residents in the van, and I did. Their faces lit up, too, and that just made my Christmas.”
Owens keeps the lights on around the clock on Christmas Eve and Christmas night for everyone coming home late from midnight services. But then, the next day dawns. “The worst day of the year is December 26th,” he said, “because I know Christmas is over, and I have to take it all down soon.”
Yet, for Owens, the Christmas spirit of love, joy and family abounds all year long. And he loves meeting the people who visit his home along the way. “Just enjoy yourself, bring the whole family,” he said. “To me, if one child gets enjoyment out of it and their eyes light up, it makes it all worthwhile.”