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Yuma tower lighting welcomes holiday season
The holiday season officially arrived in Yuma Saturday night when the Friendship Tower was lit up like a Christmas tree for all to see.
The tower was lit when Dick Rautenberg, the 2009 Yuma County Citizen of the Year, dropped a huge plunger at the end of the 25th Annual Ken and Betty Borland Holiday Pageant and Friendship Tower Lighting held at Desert Sun Stadium.
“Everybody just got done with Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping, so this is kind of our way to get ready for the Christmas holiday,” said Louie Gradias, Caballeros de Yuma member and event chairmen.
“Everybody in Yuma looks forward to this every year. When they see the tower lit up they know Christmas is just around the corner.”
The annual tradition has grown steadily during the last 25 years, Gradias said.
“It started off small with just a tower lighting. It has grown every year. We've tried to add more and more acts to it but not keep it very long because it is pretty cold.”
The pageant included many dance routines specially prepared for the event by local groups including Yuma Ballet Theatre, Dawn's Dance Studios, Arizona Classical Ballet, Dancemakers, JAMS and Jazz of Yuma.
The large audience gathered at the stadium was also serenaded by vocalist Wendy McKay and the Kofa High Royalaires.
(Video of the event will be available soon on Yumasun.com.)
Gradias said the talent was excellent.
“It is every year. The girls and the kids do a wonderful job with it. We try to showcase as much new talent as we can every year from different programs, and I think it went really well tonight. There was even an amazing little girl that started off singing. She was wonderful.”
That girl, Alyse Negroni, 5, stood all by herself very bravely in front of 1,000 people to sing “I'll Be a Little Angel.”
The temperature during the event was in the 50s, but that didn't stop the public from coming out to enjoy the yearly tradition.
“The weather is nice tonight,” Gradias said. “It isn't as cold as it was last year, and not as windy, so that really helped out quite a bit. I think we had a record turnout. I think we had about a thousand people here tonight and last year we didn't have as many people, which might have been attributed to the weather. We had quite a few people out here tonight and everybody seemed to enjoy it.”
The event also gives Crossroads Mission the opportunity to collect food items to help see it through the demanding holiday season.
“There was no charge for the event,” Gradias said. “We just asked people to bring an item of food that was donated to the Crossroads Mission. The Crossroads Mission does a wonderful job getting food out, and that is a big plus. It probably does more than a few dollars would have done. That is what we look forward to every year. The bigger the food donation, the better.”
The food donations were excellent, Gradias said.
“We filled up a whole van. People were really generous tonight and they brought quite a bit of food, which is good thing. It was nice to see all that food over there. It is huge for the families that are less fortunate and don't have the means to have a lot of food. I saw a lot of bags coming in filled with food, and that is good. We like seeing that.”
The food will go a long way towards helping Yuma's less fortunate, Gradias said.
“This time of year it is cold and everybody congregates around meals. This is our way, and the community's way, to give a little bit of something to those less fortunate than us.”
Gradias was very pleased with the event.
“We just want to thank everybody who came out,” he said. “It was a wonderful turnout and we appreciate everybody's support.”
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.