It’s hard to peg the size of a crowd that’s constantly sliding, running, singing, dancing, laughing and whispering wish lists in Santa’s ear, but the best guesses put 1,500 people, young and old, at Kilgore Historical Preservation Foundation’s ‘A Very Derrick Christmas’ Thursday evening.
The official kick-off to Kilgore’s Christmas season, this year’s event included a wide variety of kid- and family-oriented activities and entertainment orbiting the annual celebration’s showpiece: the lighting of the stars atop KHPF’s memorial derricks, towering above the World’s Richest Acre.
After the sun went down, as children ran to-and-fro amid the activities on the Acre and nearby Commerce Street, the city’s Entertainment Corridor, Mayor Ronnie Spradlin – one of KHPF’s founding members – took the stage at the intersection of North and Commerce to welcome Kilgore Police Department to the foundation’s 2016 spotlight.
Noting 2016 marks the 29th year for the derrick lighting, “There’s always a special honoree who gets to pull the switch and turn the lights on,” Spradlin said. “The Kilgore Police Department started in 1931. They serve a town of 15,000. We have 38 sworn officers, 16 civilian employees. They’re one of only 133 departments in the whole state that holds a Recognized status from the Texas Police Chiefs Association.
“They’re one of the more progressive and effective departments in East Texas, maintaining a dual philosophy of a balanced, hard-hitting approach against crime while maintaining strong community policing values.”
It’s common, the mayor added, to see pictures on social media of officers handing out snow cone coupons to local children, rewarding good behavior and reaching out to residents.
“Their motto ‘Serving Our Community’ is more than just words on paper but something they put into action everyday,” Spradlin continued. “Members proudly subscribe to the department’s core values of service, respect, integrity, professionalism, accountability and compassion.”
Also, regarding Kilgore’s emergency dispatchers, “We’re one of only 26 cities in Texas that when you dial 911 it’s answered in your own town.”
Spradlin introduced Kilgore Police Chief Todd Hunter, joined on stage by Assistant Chief Roman Roberson, Lt. Johnathan Gage, Lt. Tony Stone, Sgt. Vance Callahan and Cpl. Kevin Stewart to help throw the ceremonial switch.
“Isn’t this a wonderful night?” Hunter said. “We’re all going to get a hand on this and light this up. Are y’all ready?”
Once the derricks were lit, a steady stream of performers took to the stage amid the ongoing hustle-and-bustle of the expanded event, organized by KHPF with assistance from the Kilgore Chamber of Commerce, City of Kilgore staffers and other volunteers including church groups, student clubs, civic organizations, businesses and more.
“KHPF and city and chamber pulled off what I thought to be one of the greatest derrick lightings of all time,” Kilgore City Manager Josh Selleck said Friday. “The incredible thing is not how many people showed up, it’s how long they stayed.
“It was just extraordinary. It was an event that both drew people, gave them something to do, gave them something to eat, it had opportunities for kids to have fun things to do, opportunities for adults to be entertained. We think it may have been north of 1,500,” he added, with a steady crowd of between 50 and 100 people in line for the new ‘Snowzilla’ inflatable slide.
With the kick-off successfully completed, the next big event on tap downtown is the annual Mingle & Jingle soiree, set as an all-day free event this year on Small Business Saturday, Nov. 26. The Kilgore Chamber of Commerce 2016 Christmas Parade follows at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, and more free Main Street District events will continue on Saturdays through Christmas Eve.
KHPF President Amanda Nobles said she was excited to see the substantial growth of the derrick lighting ceremony this year, both in terms of activities and attendance.
“I thought it was amazing. I really appreciate the community turning out for it,” Nobles said. “We’re excited about the derrick lights and turning them on for the Christmas season. I’m just glad the community joined us in celebrating it.
“Those who participated in organizing this were absolutely wonderful. It would not have happened without them,” she added, praising the chamber, the event’s sponsors (Energy Weldfab, Patterson Chevrolet and Kilgore National Bank) and the wide array of city personnel and groups in the community who lent a hand: “I just appreciate everybody’s participation and attendance. It’s a good way to kick-off the Christmas season.”