Iconic Christmas lights honor couple who started them over 50 years ago
December 16, 2015
Driving the stretch of Highway 76 east of Shell Knob brings a familiar, awe-inspiring sight every year: a huge Christmas light display on a house on the north side. People from the area look forward to the display each year, but few know the story behind them.
Ricky and Lanetta Ray are the current masterminds behind the Christmas display, but it didn’t start with them. It was Ricky’s father who started the tradition 57 years ago, when electricity was first powered on in the area.
Lanetta said, “My father-in-law loved Christmas, and he bought his first string of Christmas lights when there was first electricity in the area. He wanted his little boy to have lights.”
Over the years, Loya and his wife, Dora, kept adding to their display. Sometimes that meant making decorations, sometimes that meant buying them.
Now, Lanetta and Ricky, along with their son, Rick, his wife, Rachel, and their grandsons, Ryan, 14, and Roman, 12, spend a month each fall putting up the lights and decor, adding to them as they go along.
Lanetta said, “We have our grandsons that help now, and we like keeping this tradition alive.” The Rays have two other sons, Joshua and Brian, and their wives, Telisha and Tanja, as well as five other grandchildren, Andrew, Tiana, Nymeria, Brooke and Conner.
It isn’t just their family that they are keeping the traditional live for, though. A big part of this is in memory of Loya and Dora, but the community looks forward to it, too.
“We see the smiles on people’s faces in the community, and people really look forward to it. People start coming up to us in the fall, ‘Are you doing the lights?’ ‘When are you turning them on?’ We have to continue it,” Lanetta said.
The Rays do the display each year just because they want to. They don’t take any sponsorships or donations to keep it running. Although, they do accept lights if people want to give them some. And the dreaded question about the electric bill? Lanetta said, “We take care of the electricity. It’s not cheap, but we love doing it.”
Lanetta and Ricky keep an eye out for people selling Christmas lights and decor, but they also have to search flea markets for some of the replacement parts and bulbs on occasion due to the age of the lights. It’s a group effort and a lot of time and energy, but it is worth it to the family to keep the memory of Ricky’s parents alive.
Loya passed away five years ago, and Dora followed three years ago, but both of them continued their part as long as they were able. Lanetta said, “Up until my father-in-law died, he was still out there on his scooter, doing what he could, and my mother-in-law, too.”
People coming both from the east and the west see the glow of the lights before they can see the house, which is the original house Loya and Dora owned when he bought those lights 57 years ago. People know when they’re on and keep their eyes out for it, with plenty stopping to look around and take pictures.
Lanetta and Ray rent the home out to a family, who are understanding and welcoming to the traffic. She said, “This is still a family home, it’s the Ray family homestead, and they know people are looking for the lights.”
So 57-years-and-counting, with no end in sight, the community can rest assured that the grand display of lights out on Highway 76 will continue.
Holiday memories are a big part of family traditions, whether it is putting up a tree together, reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” or baking cookies. For the Rays, this is the way they celebrate and hold the memory of Loya and Dora in their hearts. Lanetta said, “We keep the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus, but we do the fun stuff, too.”
Lanetta said, “We have got to keep doing it; it would be dishonoring them if we didn’t.”
And that original string of lights that Loya bought 57 years ago? They still have a place on the house every year.