Local

Spirit of Christmas lives through family’s charity tradition

Former Koch executive Bill Hanna and Mrs. Claus wait to greet visitors to Hanna's home, where a Christmas Lights display was set up to take donations for the Wichita Children's Home Friday night. Hanna has been doing this for 25 years and thinks this will be the last year he can do it. (Dec. 12, 2014)
Former Koch executive Bill Hanna and Mrs. Claus wait to greet visitors to Hanna's home, where a Christmas Lights display was set up to take donations for the Wichita Children's Home Friday night. Hanna has been doing this for 25 years and thinks this will be the last year he can do it. (Dec. 12, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

For more than a quarter-century of Christmas seasons, the Hanna home in east Wichita has paired wide-eyed wonder with a great cause.

“People used to ask my wife, ‘Why do you do it?’” says Bill Hanna, a former Koch executive. “And she’d tell the same story.”

Janice Hanna was looking out the front door late one night and saw an old car – a really old car – pull up into the couple’s circular driveway, he said. The car windows rolled part-way down. Then, several tiny fingers curled over the top of the windows, and little eyes gazed out at the Hannas’ holiday lights display.

The car stayed several minutes while the children marveled at the twinkling lights and animated Christmas characters. Then it rolled away.

“From then on,” Bill Hanna said, “we were always going to have the decorations.”

Janice Hanna, long known for her years of service to the Wichita Children’s Home and other charities, died in August 2010. But the holiday lights display she pieced together year after year still brightens the Hanna home near Central and Rock Road, and it still raises thousands in donations for the city’s shelter for children who have been abused or neglected.

Janice Hanna “had a real heart and spirit for the Children’s Home, so this is kind of a tribute to her,” said Debbie Kennedy, the home’s new CEO.

This Friday through Tuesday, Bill Hanna once again will open his yard at 2 N. West Parkway each evening for motorists to drive through and see the expansive lights display. The display is free, but donations to the Children’s Home are encouraged and cheerfully accepted.

“It’s fascinating to see,” Bill Hanna said Friday. “We’ve been doing it long enough now that we’ll see couples say, ‘My mom and dad are in the back, and they used to take us through here when we were kids.’ … People love it.”

Hanna, 78, hesitated to say whether this would be the final year for the lights on West Parkway. Volunteers, friends and extended family members help staff the display. He’s just not sure how much longer he’ll keep it going.

“It’s been special to my family – a connection, really” to his late wife, he said. “Even if they can’t come, they think about it.”

Robin Ragland Smith, an account executive with I Heart Radio in Wichita, has broadcast live from the house for several years and says it’s one of her favorite local events of the holiday season. Children and adults love the lights as well as the nodding, waving animals and other characters, including several collectible Annalee dolls.

“To see the look on those kids’ faces when their parents roll down the window and Santa goes to the window and gives them a candy cane – it makes my Christmas every year,” Smith said.

“It’s the most wonderful thing, and Mr. Hanna is such a special person.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

If you go

What: Holiday lights display at the Hanna home in east Wichita

When: 6 to 9 p.m. nightly through Tuesday

Where: 2 N. West Parkway, just off Central, east of Rock Road

How much: Free, but donations to the Wichita Children’s Home are encouraged

Christmas light displays

1122 N. Lawrence Court

3805 E. Longview Lane

4620 S. Sycamore

261 N. Robin Road

6529 W. Ocieo St.

2 West Parkway

620 N. Stratford

914 Crestline

12602 E. Osie St.

1462 N. Coolidge

740 N. Sheridan

43 N. Mission, Eastborough

619 Goebel

14310 E. Castle Dr.

Neighorhood displays:

100 block North Pershing

Mere Ridge, northeast corner of Ridge Road and West 21st Street

114 and 201 S. Coachhouse, and turning into Texas Street

Candy Cane Lane, 1000 block of North Azure Circle

Lights synchronized to music:

1812 S. Millwood

6726 W. Ocieo St.

5336 S. Gold

3231 N. Lake Ridge Court

Surrounding area:

1602 W. Browning, Andover

5726 E. Perryton, Bel Aire

143 E. Fourth, Goddard

820 S. James, Maize

206 S. Miller, Potwin

Know of other displays? Email the address to Annie Calovich at acalovich@wichitaeagle.com (put lights in the subject line) or call her at 316-268-6596.

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