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Editor’s Note: The Mountain Home Observer has pledged to donate $2,500 over the next five years to help fund the Coulter Celebration of Lights.
Ho! Ho! Ho!
It’s the jolliest time of the year Mountain Home, and it’s time to celebrate the Christmas season.
To get the holidays started, ASU-Mountain Home, the City of Mountain Home, and the Coulter family will be turning on the lights for Mountain Home’s second annual Coulter Celebration of Lights.
This year’s light festival has doubled and will feature many events for people to attend. The celebration will begin Sunday at 5:30 p.m. with the Coulter family turning on the Christmas lights in an opening ceremony and will run right into a Christmas-themed 5K run on ASUMH’s campus at 6 p.m.
Lights will be on display throughout the campus beginning November 20, 2022, and ending December 28, 2022. Nov. 21 will be the opening date for the general public.
Donations will be collected at the exit gate of the light event again this year.
To maximize the experience, guests are asked to dim their headlights and tune their radio to 88.1 for holiday music.
Cars will enter the display at the ASUMH College Street Thompson/Martin gates and exit off of Hwy 62 West through the Hurd gates.
“The Coulters will be turning on the lights from the steps of Roller Hall, and then the runners will gather around the fountain,” said Mollie Morgan, development officer and Coulter Lights coordinator for ASU-MH. “They get to run down Christmas Tree Way, and then they’ll go through all the lights all the drive-thru path. They’ll end up running up Candy Cane Lane at the end. So, that’s pretty fun.”
While the Coulter Celebration of Lights had an amazing first year last Christmas, the festival has seen an expansion of growth leading into the new holiday season.
This year the festival will feature over 2 million lights in displays ranging from the 12 Days of Christmas, a veteran’s display, a full gingerbread village, a reindeer court, Santa’s toy shop, a piggy bank and an elf, Mrs. Santa cooking, and a camping Santa featuring a full Airstream RV.
On Dec. 2, 3, 9, and 12, Mr. and Mrs. Santa Clause will be on campus to find out what children would like for Christmas this year. Parents are encouraged to bring the kids out and enjoy a meal of hotdogs, chips, popcorn, hot cocoa, cookies, and crispy rice treats for $5 before heading over to meet the jolly man himself.
The fun really starts on the week before Christmas. From Dec. 16 through Dec. 24, families will be able to bring their kids over to ASUMH for carousel and train rides after work. The rides are free for children 12 and under. Parents and those 13 and up can pay $5 to join the little ones on the ride.
Concession stands will also be open during that week if people are hungry.
“You can just visit Santa and enjoy the lights,” Morgan said.
The Coulter Celebration of Lights is a joint light festival created by ASU-MH Chancellor Robin Myers, Mountain Home Mayor Hillrey Adams, Dr. Ed Coulter, chancellor emeritus of ASUMH, and his wife, Lucretia Coulter.
The festival first gained traction after Adams and Myers came up with the idea for a Christmas light show in Mountain Home. From there, Adams raised $30,000 to start the show, with an additional $50,000 donation coming from Mountain Home’s City Council.
Following the announcement of the festival and calls for donations, the Coulter family stepped in and donated $200,000 to elevate the light show to a new level. The donation was made in honor of Dr. Fran Dryer Coulter, who passed away from cancer in 2001.
The campus light show was a hit, drawing in $38,000 in community donations throughout its first season. The festival raised $418,000 overall in its first year.
This year has seen another explosion in donations, with several individuals and businesses coming together to raise $250,000 to expand the light show further.
Over 100 members of the community have also stepped up as volunteers to put on the light show. Morgan said 250 volunteers would be needed to manage the rides and concession stands this year.
The light show is put together by crews from ASU-MH’s maintenance division and crews from Mountain Home’s Parks and Recreation division.
A quarter of the money donated to the Coulter Celebration of Lights will fund scholarships for local students attending college courses in town.
“Here’s what I learned through the volunteers last year,” Morgan said. “You see everybody in town, and you get to give them a peppermint cane, and they usually give you a couple of dollars. It’s a happy gig. This is one of those volunteer community events that focuses on joy. It doesn’t focus on sadness. When you see these folks focused on joy, they almost can’t wait to see a little child. It’s a different experience.”
Remember Dr. Fran Dyer Coulter
Mountain Home Arkansas was no stranger to Dr. Fran Dryer Coulter when she and her husband first moved to the city to help set up a new junior high school.
As one of the daughters of the famous Dryer clan, Dr. Fran Coulter spent her entire life in the Twin Lakes area before attending college at Ouachita Baptist University.
There she pursued her passion for history while establishing a strong marriage with Dr. Ed Coulter. A bright and driven woman, Dr. Fran Coulter matched her husband’s achievements by graduating summa cum laude with her bachelor’s degree before obtaining her master’s and doctorate degrees.
After the couple finished building Mountain Home’s new junior high school, she took up the role of professor at Ouachita Baptist University. At the same time, her husband settled into his new job with the university as a consultant for the Arkansas Technical Assistance Center; a department focused on helping public schools desegregate during the 60s.
They would both excel at their jobs. Fran would receive her full professorship while Ed would become the school’s vice president for administration for the next 20 years.
Together the happy couple traveled the world, visiting all of the places and historical sites she gave lectures on to her students. During this time, the couple would have three children together.
Fate would call in 1995 after Arkansas State University asked Dr. Ed Coulter to become chancellor and take Arkansas State University – Mountain Home Technical College to the next level by building a new campus. The task was difficult, but Dr. Ed Coulter had the experience to pull it off.
Fran would sacrifice “the mountain she had climbed” by stepping away from the position she had earned at Ouachita State University and returning home to the small American town she had grown up in.
Over the next few years, the Coulter’s would secure funding for the campus’s 140 acres and buildings. They would break ground with Governor Mike Huckabee in 1998 to celebrate the first phase of construction for the campus’s buildings.
By 1999, ASUMH achieved an attendance of over 1,000 students for the first time. Those students would march from their old campus to the new one Jan. 11, 2000.
Mountain Home’s dream of having a university had finally come true.
In 2004, Dr. Fran Dryer Coulter passed away after battling cancer. The Fran Coulter Honors Program was established in her honor in 2003.
The Coulter Celebration of Lights is currently looking for more volunteers to help make this Christmas a special time to remember. If you would like to donate to the celebration or volunteer, please contact Mollie Morgan at [email protected] or (870) 508-6191.
This event would not be possible without volunteers and sponsors. A special thank to all who have given their time and/or financial resources!