Contrary to the old adage that “No good deed goes unpunished”, two devoted volunteers at Forest Park recently received very high praise in the form of commendations from the President of the United States.
Bill Bly and Gail Depew recently received autographed cards and photos from Barack Obama for their work with the Festival of Lights at the park.
Bly and his neighbor Depew take care of repair, painting, construction and reconstruction of over 400 Christmas light displays which adorn the park each year. The lights are turned on from Thanksgiving to New Year and the wind and weather take their toll. The Bly-Depew team spends most of the year making sure everything is working properly for the next season.
Their work has not gone unnoticed.
“I was surprised,” said Bly. “I got a signed card from Congressman John Shimkus last year, but I wasn’t expecting one from the office of the President.”
Bly got involved with the Festival of Lights a little more than six years ago, when he heard help was needed. “I was retired and heard they needed some help, so I went over there. It was a time when a lot of people had quit working on the lights, so I went to see what I could do.”
As it turned out, Bly’s past experiences would serve him well. “I like to do electrical work, welding, and repair stuff in general, so it was right down my line,” he said.
Bly spent his first year with outgoing Festival of Lights supervisor Perk Wilson. Shortly after that, he was joined by his neighbor Gail Depew.
Not only do Bly and Depew repair existing displays, some are built from scratch. Over eight of the displays in the park were designed and built Bly and Depew. “I come up with some of the ideas and Bill builds them,” she said as she applied finishing touches with oil-based paint. “We make everything bright and white.”
Bly and Depew work year-round on the displays which depict elves, gingerbread houses, fanciful dragons, swans and much more.
But I have to take off some time for fishing,” laughed Bly.
Their work also serves educational needs and extends into the community as well.
The welding class at Shelbyville High School learned to replicate the designs and sell their work. “We got them started so they can make money for their welding class and buy new equipment and things. They are on their own now,” said Bly.
Due to its success, the Festival of Lights draws yearly media attention and serves as a boon to the Shelbyville tourist industry.
Festival of Lights Chairman Tad Mayhall also had high praise for Bly and Depew. “We are very pleased that they are being recognized beyond the community level, especially from the White House. Bly and Depew make a huge impact on the economy in this community. The Festival of Lights is a great way to extend our tourist season into the winter months and bring in people from out of town. We are all very glad they received this special recognition.”