A Nebraska town is remembering a beloved volunteer firefighter by continuing his longtime tradition of adorning his home with Christmas lights.
When Raleigh Haas, 62, died of a heart attack in August, most residents of the small city of McCook thought his light display would go by the wayside. But last weekend, his brethren at the McCook Fire Department, along with Haas family, decorated their former colleague's two-story, six-bedroom home with illuminations, the Kansas City Star reported.
"Firefighters are a unique profession because we're all family," McCook Fire Chief Marc Harpham told the paper. "When we lose anyone it's hard, but when you lose a member that's been with us this long and has done this much for the community, it's really hard."
"Firefighters are a unique profession because we're all family. When we lose anyone it's hard, but when you lose a member that's been with us this long and has done this much for the community, it's really hard."
Each holiday season, the home was outlined with white lights, and dozens of strands comprising thousands of lights were placed in the trees and bushes in front. Minda Haas Kuhlmann, Raleigh’s daughter, said the display was done not in a Clark Griswold “Christmas Vacation” way, referring to the National Lampoon vacation film series.
“Without their help, we might have had to spend our first Christmas without him in a dark house,” Kuhlmann wrote on Facebook. “I get the feeling that not having them wouldn't have just made my family sad, but it would have also been kind of a bummer for the people of our church."
Haas began his lighting tradition 30 years ago when his mother gave him extra boxes of Christmas lights, said Raleigh’s wife Kathy Haas. The display has grown in size to the point where the home is decked from top to bottom in Christmas lights.
“So he put the Christmas light around the door and the windows on the front, and they were white lights,” Kathy Haas said. “And every year it expanded and expanded and expanded.”
Eventually, a nativity scene was added. The display got so big, the family left the lights in the uppermost reaches of the roof year-round and their electric bill swelled to double its usual amount.
“Years ago, when my siblings and I were younger, we kept encouraging dad to add lights to more and more parts of the house, said Ryan Haas.
When Raleigh Haas died, the local McCook Daily Gazette hailed him as the “embodiment of service." Known as a church-going man, he trained countless EMTs and paramedics in the area.
"He did his job, and he kept people safe,” fellow firefighter Jay Alberts told the Daily Gazette in August.
During the holiday season, the Haas home was one of those that McCook residents frequently stopped by to look at, Harpham said.
He said the department is ready to install the lights "year after year" now, as far as he is concerned.
The family turns on the lights the day after Thanksgiving, but this year it has a deeper meaning.
"The whole idea, the whole theme is waiting for the light of the world," Kathy Haas said.