MIDDLETOWN — Bill Hart has always loved Christmas, particularly the way the town is suddenly illuminated.
In fact, he told his wife, Sharon, that one day he would make his own light show in their Middletown yard.
“I had seen a Coca-Cola commercial on TV where the Christmas lights were actually moving to the beat of a song,” Mr. Hart said. “So I told my wife, ‘That’s what I’m going to do to our house,’ and she laughed at me.”
In 2007, Ms. Hart was diagnosed with breast cancer and her husband started preparing for the possibility of life without her.
After several surgeries and radiation treatments, however, she went into remission, and Mr. Hart completed his first light display in her honor, calling it “Lights for a Cure.”
The show was free, but a donation box was set up by their mailbox, and every penny of the proceeds from visitors was given to the American Cancer Society and the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition.
This year is the 14th annual Lights for a Cure show at the Hart residence at 137 Pine Valley Drive and it has grown into something bigger than the family ever imagined.
“I’m talking maybe 1,000 to 2,000 lights blinking to music (the first year),” Mr. Hart said. “And from there, it just kind of trickled up and got to where we are today. At one point, we had about 70,000 LEDs, all synchronized to music, but we have since switched over from LED to pixel lights. So every bulb in my display has a computer chip, where it can be individually programmed to whatever color you want it to change.”
Ms. Hart added that with the LEDs, they started out with thousands of feet of extension cords. And though they could buy an automatic music synchronizer, they program each light manually.
“He is so specific with the beat of the music, making sure that everything goes with it,” she said. “So he definitely puts a lot of time into it.”
The lights adorn structures made to look like trees, candy canes, snowmen and snowflakes. There is even a scrolling marquee that displays lyrics to the songs and “Merry Christmas” messages from the Harts.
The entire show is 24 minutes and 27 seconds, and visitors who come in their cars should tune their radio to 107.5 FM to hear the music to which the lights blink. The playlist includes classics like “Winter Wonderland,” contemporary favorites like “All I Want for Christmas,” and a touch of patriotism with “God Bless America.”
“It takes about two and a half to three hours to program one minute,” Mr. Hart said. “So a lot of time goes into programming. In February is when I usually start programming for the next Christmas season.”
Mr. Hart said they actively participate in Relay for Life and other cancer events and organizations to help people who are struggling through the same situation they found themselves. Last year’s light show was their biggest year yet, raising around $2,000.
“If you want to donate, that’s perfect, or if you just want to make it a family tradition and bring your family out and smile, that’s perfect too,” Mr. Hart said. “We get a couple of letters a year from people thanking us for doing it for cancer and some kids leave us notes thanking us and they say they love our lights. And that’s what it’s all about, just putting on smiles and making traditions.”
As the show grew, Ms. Hart started to help out, doing most of the light soldering and keeping their decorations organized.
“It gives him and I something that we enjoy to do together,” Ms. Hart said. “I think we work well together, too, because he is the programmer and I’m more of the organizer.”
She added that she is extremely touched that her husband would create something so memorable. Although it started out in honor of her, it has progressed to honor others.
“It shows how important life is,” Ms. Hart said. “It’s the little things, so I’m pretty proud of his work. When I come home every night, I always turn the radio on and I’ll be in my car and I’m like, ‘Man, he did that for me.’”
Mr. Hart said 2007 was one of the darkest times of his life, and his wife was the one who held him together through it all.
“There were nights coming home or going to work when I would actually have to stop in a parking lot somewhere and let my emotions out so when I got home, (my wife) wouldn’t see that I was upset,” he said. “I tried to be as strong and supportive as she was.”
After Ms. Hart’s diagnosis, Mr. Hart’s head was constantly swimming with panic, he said, trying to figure out how they would provide and care for their kids, who were 4 and 7 at the time, if she didn’t make it through.
“The kids knew they could only give Mommy hip hugs because of surgeries, but we tried to reinforce that none of this was because of them,” Mr. Hart said. “We didn’t want them to think that they did something to make Mom sick. We just tried to keep them very involved in the whole process and we didn’t hide anything from them. They knew that there was a possibility in three months or five months that Mommy may not be here.”
After her recovery, Mr. Hart said they were going to do whatever they could to help fight back for others. Every year, they dedicate the show to a friend or family member who has been affected one way or another by cancer.
The first night of the show is always on Thanksgiving, and it runs until New Year’s Eve. The lights go up at 5:30 p.m. each day and end at 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. More information is on their Facebook page by searching Lightsforacure.