Couple enjoys brightening their neighborhood
Five years ago when Ron Kapaun returned to the house he grew up in, neighbors Tom and Mary Redner informed him that Wisconsin Street residents decorate their homes with lights for Christmas.
He was advised that he and his partner, Cindy Heldman, would have to do the same to fit in.
"I said, 'You haven't seen nothin' yet,'" Ron recalls with a twinkle in his eye.
Anyone who's driven past the Kapaun-Heldman house at 708 Wisconsin St. knows what Ron was talking about.
The exterior of the house is covered with multi-color miniature lights. So are the shrubs and trees in the front lawn, and a row of bushes along the west property line.
Santa, his sleigh and reindeer are outlined in white lights on the roof of the rambler.
Ron's parents, Gerald and Yvonne, built the house in 1960 and moved in when Ron was nine months old.
Ron and his siblings - Steve, Kimberly and Kevin - all grew up there.
Lighting up for the holidays was already a Wisconsin Street tradition when Ron was a youth - and his father was a big part of it.
According to Cindy, Ron found a new purpose for some poles that his dad used for hanging lights around a front bay window that has since been replaced. The poles now are holding up the lights along the row of bushes.
Cindy told Ron that his dad, who died in 1983 at the age of 61, is still helping out with the Christmas decorating.
Yvonne sold the Wisconsin Street house after Gerald's death and is remarried and living in Bayport, Minn.
Ron and Cindy kept up the Kapaun tradition of a bright Christmas when they lived in North St. Paul.
They also hosted the Christmas Eve gatherings of Ron's siblings and their families. It was at those gatherings that a contest developed to see who could come the closest to guessing the number of lights Ron and Cindy had hung.
"Over in North St. Paul, 4,000 was a lot to us," Cindy says with a laugh.
"I do, but you can't print that," she answers when asked if she knows how many lights were strung this year.
Pressed for a number, she relents and says it is more than 18,000.
Cindy kept track of the time it took them to hang the lights this year, too.
"It was about 40 hours," she says. "That doesn't count the running to Fleet Farm (for another extension cord)."
Cindy estimates that they have invested $3,000 or more in Christmas lights over the years. They store them in big Rubbermaid tubs kept in the garage, basement and a shed during the off-season.
They spend between $200 and $300 a year on replacements and adding to the collection. Two years ago, they switched from a blue house with the windows accented in green and red to the current multi-color design. That was an added expense.
They turn on the lights Thanksgiving night and keep them lit through New Year's Eve. Cindy says it adds about $250 to their electric bill for the five-week period.
Putting up the lights is a team effort. Cindy says they work a few eight-hour days at it, and complete the task with an hour or two here and there as they have the time.
"We don't do it for ourselves," Cindy says, quoting Ron. "It's for others."
She says Ron is the one really responsible for the extravagant display. He does it for the grandchildren - Tucker, 6, Adrianna, 5, and Landon, 3 - and the community.
Motorists slow down or stop in front of the house every night to take in the scenery, Cindy says. Sometimes there's a parade of slow-moving traffic going by.
Ron was outside one night when a woman, accompanied by her children, stopped her car to thank him for the lights.
"That's his motivation. It's for others. It sure isn't for us," Cindy says with a hearty laugh.
The grandchildren belong to Cindy's son, Tim, and his wife, Sirena, who are Hudson residents, too. Cindy also has a daughter, Aimee, who resides in east St. Paul.
Ron's daughter, Calli, is a sophomore at Minnesota State University at Mankato.
Ron, a 1978 graduate of Hudson High School and 31-year employee of 3M Co., is glad to be back home after 20 years in the Twin Cities.
His family is happy to have him back in the Kapaun house, too. Sister-in-law Sue Kapaun, Steve's wife, called him as soon as she noticed the for-sale sign in front of the house five years ago.
Steve and Sue have also owned and resided in the house.
Ron wasn't interested in buying his childhood home at first, but agreed to tour it with a real estate agent because he wanted to show it to Cindy.
The visit home changed his mind and he and Cindy made an offer on the house shortly after.
He didn't tell the real estate agent that he grew up in the house until the day he signed the papers closing the sale.
The agent was surprised, he says with a grin.