Lights! Music! Action! Man syncs lights at Layton park with holiday tunes

Dec 23 2011 - 11:14pm

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NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner
Don Wilhelm poses Monday for a portrait with a lighted display he helped set up at Layton Commons Park.
NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner
Lights at Layton Commons Park are pictured on Monday. Don Wilhelm, chairman of Layton’s parks and recreation commission, was instrumental in programming the lights to flash in time with holiday songs, adding a new dimension to the annual park attraction.
NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner
Lights at Layton Commons Park are pictured on Monday. Don Wilhelm, chairman of Layton’s parks and recreation commission, was instrumental in programming the lights to flash in time with holiday songs, adding a new dimension to the annual park attraction.
NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner
Lights at Layton Commons Park are pictured on Monday. Don Wilhelm, chairman of Layton’s parks and recreation commission, was instrumental in programming the lights to flash in time with holiday songs, adding a new dimension to the annual park attraction.
NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner
Don Wilhelm poses Monday for a portrait with a lighted display he helped set up at Layton Commons Park.
NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner
Lights at Layton Commons Park are pictured on Monday. Don Wilhelm, chairman of Layton’s parks and recreation commission, was instrumental in programming the lights to flash in time with holiday songs, adding a new dimension to the annual park attraction.
NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner
Lights at Layton Commons Park are pictured on Monday. Don Wilhelm, chairman of Layton’s parks and recreation commission, was instrumental in programming the lights to flash in time with holiday songs, adding a new dimension to the annual park attraction.
NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner
Lights at Layton Commons Park are pictured on Monday. Don Wilhelm, chairman of Layton’s parks and recreation commission, was instrumental in programming the lights to flash in time with holiday songs, adding a new dimension to the annual park attraction.

LAYTON -- Walt Disney may have come up with the term "plussing," but Don Wilhelm is living proof of the idea.

By providing service throughout Layton, those affected by Wilhelm's work say he is the perfect example of Disney's phrase, which means taking a good idea and making it better.

"That's his M.O. (method of operation)," said Dave Thomas, recreation division supervisor. "He takes whatever's out there and he sits down and instead of reinventing the wheel, he makes it better."

Perhaps Wilhelm's most noticeable contribution involves the holiday lights at Layton Commons Park. A few years ago the display began including a show that had lights synchronized to flash with music.

Adding the new twist, along with the rest of the work he does with the light display, was just one way Wilhelm wanted to make the lighting display even better.

"There are a few people who do that at their homes and I thought it might be fun to do at the park, so basically I threw out an idea to do it and said I'd be willing to help," said Wilhelm, 56, who serves as the chairman of the parks and recreation commission.

Instead of just helping, Wilhelm headed the project. That involved learning how to program the lights and music, new tasks for the Graybar Electric salesman.

"It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be because other people were doing it," Wilhelm said. "It was really just software. Once you figured out the software it was easy, but it was time-consuming."

For every one minute of music, Wilhelm estimates that he had to spend one hour programing the flickering lights to match the beats. He said the time needed to prepare the 25-minute mix of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," Brian Setzer's "Jingle Bell Rock" and a few fast-paced Trans-Siberian Orchestra tunes was well worth the effort.

"You can't put a value on it," Thomas said. "I can't think of the countless hours he's spent programing the Christmas lights. He had to learn it from nothing and do it himself."

Wilhelm does not work to gain praise from others.

"When we had the lighting ceremony, it was fun to watch the kids enjoy the show," Wilhelm said. "That makes it all worth it and lets you know that you're giving something back."

Wilhelm became involved with the parks and recreation department while serving on the board at the Davis Arts Council. He also began volunteering at Layton High School, which he graduated from in 1973. His wife, Susan, and his children are also Lancers, and Wilhelm was drawn back to his school when his kids began attending.

His presence is certainly beneficial for the students.

"It's just like having a professional here to learn from," said Dennis Ferrin, artistic director and head of the fine arts department. "He always is trying to give credit to the students, saying, 'I'm here to help but they're doing it.' But in reality he's doing a lot of the artistic work."

Along with helping during the show, Wilhelm also leads the backstage tours before the performances, talking about all the technical aspects that go on behind the scenes.

Those who know him best say Wilhelm looks for ways to help. Wilhelm, who also runs the sound during the city's Fourth of July and July 24th concerts, said there is a reason for that.

"I feel like if I can contribute to our community and make it a better place to live, then it's better for all of us," Wilhelm said. "Plus if people enjoy it, it makes it fun."

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