I found Jerry Schmidt over by the Clock Tower, setting up lights in the near-freezing rain for his latest effort, the Winter Glow Spectacular. Somebody had remarked to him earlier, "Wow, you actually put up the lights, too?" To which he answered, "You see anybody else?"
One look at his dirt-caked hands and rain-soaked ski pants tells you he and his handful of helpers have been at it for some time — five weeks nonstop, in fact. As I shiver to scribble a few notes, he says cheerfully, "Actually, this is warmer than it's been!"
Just across the river from where we're standing is Spokane Falls Boulevard — the stretch where a crazy new idea called Hoopfest was launched 25 years ago. Schmidt was one of the original few to make that happen, and now he's back at it.
As a startup, Winter Glow has a similar feel — powered by a small group (Schmidt, Ed Miller, Phil Robinson and a few others; Washington Trust Bank endowed the seed money), it feels like it could take off and get huge. Imagine in five years, more lighting all over the park and more events from Thanksgiving to New Year's.
The homegrown events have the best staying power. Bloomsday, Hoopfest, Pig Out — all of them are powered by local pride. Schmidt even recruited local students at Spokane Community College and Spokane Valley Tech to weld displays.
As we walk the course of lights that will open to the public Friday night, Schmidt talks about growing up in Spokane, coming downtown with his parents during the holidays, and how they'd all peer into the Crescent window display and wander the streets. Those memories run deep.
Snow falling on colored lights, Belgian horses clip-clopping through the park, kids laughing... Schmidt hopes Winter Glow will spark a new generation of Spokane memories in Riverfront Park, where the whole idea started.
"I'd ice skate after work, and when I was walking in, a lot of times I'd think, 'Man, this place is dead. We've got this great park, we could do so much with it for the holidays.' So I said, 'Well, let's change it.'
"But," he also recalls thinking, "who's gonna do it?"
Who? The answer is clear when Schmidt stops to tweak the speed on one of his animated displays. He steps back to admire it, and says, "This one... yeah, this one really pops." ♦
Winter Glow is still looking for volunteers; call Phil Robinson at 280-7775 if you want to get involved. And don't miss the lighting celebration at the Rotary Fountain, Friday, Nov. 28, at 6:30 pm.