It’s been an unusual year for the Jamestown El Zagal Shriners since the coronavirus pandemic began.
No Jamestown Mystics fish fry in the spring. Few parades and appearances to “clown around” and make people smile. No Clown for a Night in December, an annual fundraising event attended by hundreds of people.
For one member of the Jamestown Clowns, something positive was needed, not only for the Shriners but the community, too.
Come November, the trees on Mill Hill next to Newman Signs will be lit up with holiday lights, thanks to the members of the Shriners which include the Jamestown El Zagal Clowns, Jamestown El Zagal Mystics and Jamestown El Zagal Easy Wheels groups.
Scott Anderson, a member of the Jamestown El Zagal Clowns, said it’s something he and his wife have talked about for years.
“Newman’s done a great job (with lights) on top (of the hill),” he said. He noted other groups had previously lit up the Mill Hill trees for the holiday season but the trees have grown over time to be quite large, making it a challenge to string the lights to the top of them.
Enter the Shriners.
“We had 150 strong (members), we got people and the manpower to get it done,” Anderson said. He brought the idea to the attention of the groups and after research, the El Zagal Shriner groups collectively contributed all the money - $30,000 - to decorate the trees on the east and west sides of Mill Hill.
“I think it’s just something that Jamestown needed,” Anderson said. “I think it’s going to be a good thing for us (Shriners) and the community.”
Stringing lights on those Mill Hill trees wasn’t a one-day job.
“We had 55, 56 trees,” Anderson said, to decorate. “We went and trimmed all the trees beforehand, we did that with the help of the city forester (Erik Laber). Then we got the proper equipment, we got some lifts that we got from fellow Clowns that let us use them.”
He said there were about 50 hours into the project with seven or eight people working at a time.
“The lights came in thousand-foot spools and we had to put the bulbs in individually by hand,” Anderson said. “So we did that in a garage, one of our fellow Shriners opened up his garage, and set up a little assembly line” where people worked. Then the multi-colored LED lights were placed on the trees as they were readied, he said.
“Some of the trees were up in the air like 35 feet,” he said. Lights were placed starting at the top of each tree and wrapped around to the bottom.
“If you’re going to do a tree, do a tree right,” Anderson said of light decorating. “It went faster than I thought it would go.”
And people were appreciative when they saw them working at the site in August, Anderson said. They were honking their vehicle horns and doing a “thumbs up,” he said.
In all, 20,000 lights are expected to shine, one light per foot, he said, on what he called “Shriner Hill.”
The lights are still being tested before they will be turned on. They will remain on the trees year-round, Anderson said, but be lit up from early November through January.
On the east side, they plan at some time to put up a Shriner fez and sign. They also plan to light up the “Welcome to Jamestown” sign that’s on the east side. Anderson expects there will be some kind of public lighting ceremony event with Newman Signs when it’s time to turn the lights on for the holiday season.
“It’s a pretty nice deal for Jamestown, I think,” he said. “I think it’s going to be really appreciated in the community.”
Mayor Dwaine Heinrich agrees.
“I just couldn’t be more pleased with what they’re doing or more appreciative," Heinrich said. "and when I say that ... I believe I’m speaking for the entire city."
Heinrich said he’s always said that when people drive the prairies in eastern North Dakota and South Dakota and come to Jamestown, the drive down Mill Hill is an experience in itself.
“All of a sudden you drop down into this valley,” he said, "and then to have that lighted up it’d be just absolutely beautiful. It’s beautiful without lights.”
Heinrich said the community’s fortunate to have an "excellent city forester and the Shriners and that everybody’s willing to work together, and the end is going to be something that the entire community’s going to appreciate.”
Anderson said he enjoys lights and noted the Shriners ask a lot of the people of Jamestown through their fundraisers that benefit Shriner hospitals and charities. He said the light project was a way to give back to the community.
Anderson said with the pandemic going on, it was the right time for the project, to give people who are ready to get out to see something positive going on. It might also help recruit more Shriners, he said, and the group is always looking for more Shriners.
“It’s just kind of a special group to belong with,” he said.