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Volunteer spotlight: They make light work of Enfield Christmas display

  • Butch Ekbom, of Carver, Mass., Eddie Grabowski, of Braintree, Mass., and George Drew, of Methuen, Mass., spend a week each year helping set up the light display at the Our Lady of La Salette Shrine in Enfield. (John Markowitz photograph)

  • Eddie Grabowski, of Braintree, Mass., works on setting up a light fixture at Our Lady of La Salette Shrine in Enfield. (John Markowitz photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/14/2020 9:49:34 PM
Modified: 11/14/2020 9:49:24 PM

Each November, three friends make the annual trek from their Massachusetts homes to the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette for a week of camaraderie, prayer — and Christmas lights.

The trio — Eddie Grabowski, of Braintree, Mass.; George Drew, of Methuen, Mass.; and Butch Ekbom, of Carver, Mass. — all spent time at La Salette during the 1970s and 1980s at youth programs and retreats.

“You spend the summer together working, hanging out, you build strong bonds,” Drew said.

For about six years, they’ve returned to La Salette to help set up the annual Christmas display, no matter the weather.

“We always brave it,” Ekbom said at La Salette on a balmy day in early November, as he marveled at being outside during a lunch break.

“You hate to lose a day of work because it’s so valuable each day,” Drew added.

They stay in the rectory at the shrine, where they also eat their meals.

“Usually after a couple visits, you end up having the same room you always have,” Ekbom said. “My family knows I’m always going to be away for one week in November.”

The display will turn on for the first time on Thanksgiving and will be up through Jan. 3. The lights will be on 5-9 p.m. from Wednesday-Sunday during that time. The theme is centered around hope.

Under the guidance of Rick Smith, director of maintenance at La Salette, the trio begin their work by checking bulbs and figuring out the layout of 5½ -acre light show, which changes slightly each year. Smith estimated there are roughly 175,000 individual bulbs that make up about 60 displays.

“Every couple years there’s a new display that goes up as well,” Drew said.

They also must make sure the light displays are safely connected to the electrical system.

“We (have) some displays that have been retrofitted with LED lights and there’s been such a reduction with the amount of electricity,” Drew said.

Their efforts are appreciated each year.

“These guys here, they’re a blessing,” Smith said. “I sleep well knowing they’re here.”

And the feeling is mutual.

“If someone had told me 40 years ago you’d be back doing Christmas lights with three of your best friends, I wouldn’t have been able to fathom it,” Ekbom said. “It’s ironic how you can be 50 years old and still feel like you’re 16 years old, except when you wake up in the mornings.”

Editor’s note: For more information about the light display, visit lasaletteofenfield.org.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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