Giving away the Christmas spirit

On his way home from the store after Christmas last year, Gene Hoover of Columbia City called his sister.“You’ve got to help me, I have an addiction,” he said. His truck was so full he couldn’t see out the back window.And what was the truck filled with? Christmas decorations.Every year for the last 10 years, Hoover has decorated his yard with Christmas decorations, lights, figurines, inflatables, a projector shining scenes on the house, anything he can find at those after Christmas sales.Hoover said he began in October this year to get everything set up for Christmas, taking two to three weeks of good weather to complete, and the display has become a favorite Christmas tradition for many, visitors coming from Fort Wayne and Warsaw to enjoy the display.The Hoovers live on Irene Drive, which is near Etna Road and Airport Road a little west of Kroger. His sister, Deb Aldrich says it’s not hard to find, “Just follow the glow.”The whole production is set up with timers to come on and inflate at 4:45 p.m. and continue until 11 p.m. Last year, Hoover joined his display, dressing as Santa and walking out through the lighted forest on Christmas Eve and waving to passersby. Soon there was a long line of cars driving slowly by.One mother was forced to turn back, as her child just knew he had seen Santa. “She thought he meant the statues,” Hoover said, but the boy was so insistent, she turned around and they got out of the car to visit with him.Each year Hoover vows it will be his last, but a phone call from a neighbor girl in second grade convinces him otherwise.Hailey Hinen is the little girl and when she calls and asks when he will be starting to set up, Hoover says, “I just can’t tell her no.”Some even give donations to help with the light bill, one man giving $50 last year.Hoover and his wife, Sandy, have 15 grandchildren ranging in age from eight months to 16 years. She doesn’t seem to mind her husband’s obsession, proudly showing off letters they have received from those who have enjoyed Hoover’s décor.“What you do for us all is a blessing!” wrote one family.The donations, phone calls and letters only serve to feed Hoover’s addiction, and come Dec. 26, Gene Hoover most likely will be seen leaving the parking lot of a department store with limited rear visibility again this year.