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Family fun at Friendship Tower Lighting
A gloomy and windswept day couldn't keep hundreds of families from coming out to watch the 24th Annual Ken and Betty Borland Holiday Pageant and Friendship Tower Lighting Saturday night.
The event began with a presentation of the colors by a Marine detachment from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, and a stirring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by soloist Wendy McKay.
The chilly evening saw several local dance groups and singers take to the field at Desert Sun Stadium despite the wintry weather.
"This is an opportunity for the Caballeros to extend a time for the community to come together and begin the holiday season," said Bill Gresser, Caballeros de Yuma chairman of the event.
"This is our 24th year doing it and it has become a very popular thing, even with the weather were having."
According to Gresser, putting the nearly 900 lights up on the tower is hard work best done by those without a fear of heights.
"We work together with the city of Yuma," he said. "The Caballeros are on the ground securing them, and the guys from the city are up on top of the tower putting up the lights. It's about 200 feet to the top of the flag pole, and it takes a good morning to finish, but we've been doing it for quite a few years and have a pretty good system now."
Gresser said the Christmas tree tower is an icon that screams Yuma.
"It does, and I'll tell you a funny story. One of the past post commanders at MCAS said that years back when he was flying in from California, once they took off from El Centro they saw the lights on the tower and headed this way knowing they were on their way to Yuma. Once you get up to a few thousand feet, you can see it. It is a beacon."
Candice Orduno, a dancer with Yuma Ballet Theater, was with her peers to perform an excerpt of the upcoming Nutcracker performance debuting next week. She believes the tower lighting is very significant.
"I think this is important for Yuma and gives the arts in town a chance to showcase (themselves). It is a tradition and people look forward to it," she said. "I don't think it becomes the Christmas holiday until we see that light come on. Then you know it's time to get your presents and go see family and get your Christmas tree."
To gain entry to the event, attendees were asked to donate non-perishable food items, which were then given to the Crossroads Mission. Barbara Rochester, Crossroads Mission special events director, said she was extremely pleased with the community's generosity.
"This is going to benefit Crossroads Mission tremendously because many of the people who have lost their jobs are eating down at the mission so we need as much food as possible and we appreciate everybody donating to us. We got a lot of food."
After the tower lighting ceremony, old Chris Kringle himself graced the baseball field to wave at the many eager children. He was accompanied by the 2009 Yuma Jaycees Silver Spur Rodeo Royalty and 2009 Miss Yuma County Jade Miller.
When asked who was playing the part of Santa this year, Gresser said emphatically, "Santa Claus is playing Santa Claus! We don't have anybody else. This is the real thing straight from the North Pole. When you see him, you’ll know it's him."
Shara Merten, executive director of Caballeros de Yuma, said she looks forward to this event every year.
"It's the spirit of Yuma. The people of Yuma come together to donate and the kids perform. I think it is a way for the Caballeros to give back which is what we are all about. Santa is also going to be handing out candy, so a lot of the kids get to go home with sugar highs," she added while chuckling.
Mia Armijo, 12 of Yuma, was a singer during the event, and was one of the kids who received some sugary confections.
"This is my first year doing this and I think it is really, really cool," she said. "I've been here all my life in Yuma and this is the first time I've seen it. It is very cold and were all squished together to keep warm when we were singing, but it was really cool and I got candy!"
It was 11 year old Hannah Szloboda's first time at the event as well.
"It's awesome and every time I drive by I see it lit up, but I've never actually been to the ceremony," she said. "This was really fun, and it makes me think of Christmas."
**Click here for a slideshow: http://www.yumasun.com/sections/slideshow/?id=1651847