By Emily Claffy
The light displays in the Haggin Oaks neighborhood in southwest Bakersfield are a well-known attraction for Bakersfield residents during the holidays.
But few people who enjoy driving through the neighborhood to view the lights are aware of all the groups and individuals involved in making the attraction a Bakersfield tradition.
* 736: number of single family homes
* 80: percentage of household incomes of $75,000 or more
* 79: percentage who are homeowners
* 72: percentage who have lived in the home for more than six years
* 82: percentage of homes whose head of household is 50 years old or older
Source: The Bakersfield Californian, Market Research Department
It's not exactly clear when the tradition began, but residents Sue Thomas and Martha Miller agree that it has been at least 25 years. Haggin Oaks homes were built in the mid-1980s.
"When we first moved in, we were a little worried about keeping up with all the lights," said Miller, who has lived in Haggin Oaks for about 20 years. "We never felt any pressure. Although one year, we put up lights around the pillars but the fuse box went out, so we decided it was too much."
Thomas said she didn't know about the light display tradition when she and her husband, Ed Thomas, moved into the neighborhood 26 years ago.
One of her favorite things about the Haggin Oaks tradition is seeing the children enjoy the lights.
"It's part of their Christmas tradition," Thomas said. "We are really glad it's going on."
For Miller, the event brings families together, including her own.
"We love the lights at Christmas and nearly every year that we've lived here, there are usually horse wagon rides through the neighborhood," Miller said. "One year we took my parents when they were in their 80s. We took the kids, and my dad just loved it. I think it reminded him of when he was a boy."
The tradition comes with a cost, however. The Thomases said their energy costs can increase as much as four times than normal during the holidays.
"We have these huge trees in our front yard," Sue Thomas said. "They're 50-foot redwoods and we decorate them. Last year we used LED lights so it helped a little bit with the energy costs."
But an increase in electricity isn't a huge concern if it makes the children happy, Miller said.
Neighborhood bike ride
Children aren't the only people who appreciate the lights in the Haggin Oaks neighborhood.
Bike Bakersfield, a local nonprofit bicycling advocacy organization, regularly plans a ride through the neighborhood.
The group's focus is getting people to use bicycles for everyday transportation, said Bike Bakersfield's membership and communications coordinator Brad Swanlund. He finds that sometimes people are nervous about riding through city streets. The slow pace of the ride through Haggin Oaks provides a great opportunity for those people.
"Aside from the goals of Bike Bakersfield, I think riding a bicycle is a wonderful way to view the holiday decorations in Haggin Oaks," Swanlund said. "A comfortable speed by bicycle is the ideal speed for this type of sightseeing. The community aspect of the ride is also a big draw for me. It's always nice to get together with the bicycle community. I enjoy rides that draw in all types of bicycles and bicyclists."
Randy Dickow has been involved with Bike Bakersfield for three years and has participated in the ride through Haggin Oaks twice.
"It's fun, and a great way to see all the decorations," Dickow said. "Traveling slow, but not blocking traffic that wants to go by allows one to really 'smell the roses' so-to-speak. The annual decorations are a community asset and appreciated by most -- a great gift to the community."
Light displays and a nice bike ride aren't the only attractions the Haggin Oaks community offers during the holidays. Dustin's Diner is a holiday-only, resident-ran neighborhood carhop that opened in 1993, started by Dustin Kilpatrick, a former Haggin Oaks resident.
Proceeds of the diner are donated to the Bakersfield Homeless Center, said diner volunteer Kim Mishkind.
Kilpatrick raised $200 the first year it opened. Even though Dustin moved away, Dustin's Diner continues to thrive.
"Last year we raised almost $13,000, bringing the total donated to (the homeless center) to more than $175,000," Mishkind said.
Barbara Paulson, basic needs manager at the Bakersfield Homeless Center, has visited the diner the past seven years.
"I have seen such a sense of compassion and joy come from the people who not only host this, but also all the families in that neighborhood who participate by volunteering," Paulson said. "It's a great lesson for the kids as well as they enjoy helping other kids and feel so prideful in doing so. They are all amazing! We are fortunate to be the recipients of this grand effort."
The Haggin Oaks community coordinates the diner's operations, and residents volunteer and enlist the help of the children in the neighborhood.
Maria Torpey, a fifth-grader at McAuliffe Elementary School, said she enjoys volunteering because she is able to spend time with her friends while helping the homeless.
"My friends and I take people's orders and deliver their cookies and hot drinks to their cars," Torpey said.
Sarah Howard, a ninth-grader at Stockdale High School who also volunteers her time to Dustin's Diner, became involved when she was in third grade by tagging along with her mother to help. Now, Howard volunteers as many nights as she can, and her family hosts one night for the diner.
"My dad dresses up as Santa, and we line up all the volunteers for the night," she said.
Howard's many duties include singing songs to onlookers to encourage donations for the homeless center, to buy cookies and hot chocolate, assist people who drive up to the diner, and fill up cups of hot chocolate and apple cider.
"I enjoy volunteering at Dustin's Diner because I am giving back to my community, and doing that makes me feel good," Howard said.
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