Chesterfield property once again becomes winter wonderland

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CHESTERFIELD, N.H. -- This one's for Rita.

John Chakalos and his wife of more than a half-century had made a name for themselves decking out their 82-acre properly with Christmas lights and decorations for public enjoyment. And though Rita died of breast cancer a week before Thanksgiving, more than 6 million light bulbs will continue to glow for a good cause at 140 Pond Brook Road this year.

Anyone is welcome to drive the winding driveway of the estate between 6 and 9 p.m. every day from Friday, Dec. 13, to Sunday, Dec. 22. Guests are asked to bring a monetary donation or non-perishable food items to be collected for Joan's Food Pantry, an organization of Asbury Methodist Church.

Val Starbuck, who volunteers for the food pantry, said this year's holiday festivities are in memory of Rita Chakalos.

"She began the tradition for her family and friends and then opened it to public," Starbuck told the Reformer. "She was instrumental in finding an avenue that could benefit (an organization) and she found Joan's Food Pantry."

The Chakalos' split time between their Chesterfield home and one in Connecticut. The couple started the tradition about 10 years ago and restarted it in 2009 after taking a few years off.

Starbuck said there is a tree decorated in pink at the front gate of the property to honor Rita Chakalos' memory.

"It's for our angel who, for all those years, helped feed so many people in our community," she said.

Joy Washburn, the property manager and John Chakalos' caretaker in New Hampshire, said she considered putting pink lights on some of the property's trees but then thought the family might not want to be reminded of Rita's death so soon.

She said a quarter of a million new lights have been purchased since last year, bringing the total to more than 6 million. She said she and nine other people started stringing up the lights and installing the decorations in the second week of August.

"I convinced him this year to rent a lift so we could get the lights as far as we could to the tops of the trees. I rented it with my commercial license and he footed the bill," she said with a laugh. "It's going to be interesting taking them down because we ain't got the lift to get them down."

The nearly half-mile driveway of the property is lined with countless decorations and light displays, including images of Santa Claus and a nativity scene.

Starbuck said more than 6,400 vehicles passed through the property last year and brought enough donations to fill the food pantry's shelves until March. The food pantry's goal is to keep them full until April this year, as the client list has grown from 100 each week to 120. The year before that, the property saw 4,000 vehicles the pantry came away with 800 bags of groceries.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.


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