The home and property of John and Rita Chakalos in Chesterfield, N.H., is covered in Christmas lights for the holidays.Every year, for a suggested donation
The home and property of John and Rita Chakalos in Chesterfield, N.H., is covered in Christmas lights for the holidays. Every year, for a suggested donation of a non perishable food item, the public is welcome to drive through the property to see the display. The collected food is donated to Joan's Food Pantry in Chesterfield, N.H. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Saturday December 15, 2012

CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in town.

John and Rita Chakalos have once again adorned their estate at 140 Pond Brook Road with holiday lights for all to see. The couple traditionally has their property decked out with festive decorations and opens the gates to drivers the final three weekends of December.

Anyone is welcome to drive the meandering driveway of the estate between 6 and 9 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and admire the lights that stretch as far as the eye can see. All guests are asked to bring a monetary donation, or more preferably a non-perishable food item, which is collected for Joan's Food Pantry, an organization of Asbury Methodist Church.

John Chakalos said he began the light display for the enjoyment of his daughters and grandchildren. It eventually blossomed into a charity effort the whole town could enjoy.

"My wife suggested we put it to good use. We get a lot of pleasure out of it," he said. "We're grateful for Christmas."

John was born and raised in Keene before moving to Connecticut in the 1940s. He and Rita claim residency in Chesterfield, though they also live in Connecticut.

He said about 4,000 cars passed through his estate -- known as "The Farm" -- last year and the food pantry came away with 800 bags of groceries.

"And this year should be even greater," John said. He and his wife have decided Sunday, Dec. 30, will be the final day for guests this year.

The decorations, which rest on trees and on structures throughout the estate, run along the driveway and even behind the house and near the tennis courts.

Val Starbuck, of the all-volunteer Joan's Food Pantry, said more than $3,000 was generated last year and the display is a huge gift to the community.

"It's a magnificent estate," she said. "It's a Godsend. We don't have a lot of money so it helps us stock our shelves without having to worrying about where (the food) will come from."

Joy Washburn, the Chakalos' caretaker in New Hamsphire, and her family put up the lights and decorations with the help from some workers from Connecticut. She said the owners have 82 acres and almost all over the 27 acres of lawn are used for the lights display.

"(People) very much enjoy it," she said standing outside the Chakalos' house Thursday night. "The pantry really feels they get a lot of benefit out of it."

Washburn, who grew up on the property before the Chakalos' bought it and built their home, said there are 214,681 new LED light bulbs at a cost of $18,000 this year alone. There is also a poinsettia display that is new.

She mentioned she started putting things together in late October -- and it took between 3,500 and 4,200 hours (or 145 to 175 full days) to complete.

"Every year he adds more," she said with a smile.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.