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November  25, 2004

A higher power  
Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

Frank Hudak ups the ante this year with more lights, more displays and more help for a worthy cause

Way back at the cusp of the 21st century, while partying like it was 1999, The Times-Dispatch celebrated its 10th annual Tacky Christmas Lights Tour list.

By celebrated, we mean we published the “Top 10 disclaimers” about our tacky-lights list.

No. 5, for example: After 10 years, we’re running out of light /bright/wattage/glow/bulb/circuit words and phrases. We just thought you should know.

No. 5 holds even more true in our 15th year of compiling the biggest, brightest list in town. But that doesn’t keep us from trying to find new ways to describe one of Richmond’s best-loved traditions.

Surge. Electric. Beam. Radiance. See? We’ve still got it.

So does Frank Hudak, No. 8 on the ’99 disclaimers list: It’s only a rumor that Frank Hudak at 2300 Wistar Court has hooked himself up to Virginia Power. That’s a battery pack in his jacket, folks, and he IS glad to see ya.

Hudak has been lighting up for an astonishing 30 years, first at his home on Adrian Drive and then at Wistar Court. He picked up the habit in Philadelphia where, he says, “you were hard-pressed not to decorate.”

When he moved to Richmond, Hudak recalls, “the Williamsburg look was in. I’d look around, and all I saw were these night lights in the windows!”

Preissner residence at 2334 Thousand Oaks Drive has 36,000 lights and are lighting up Dec. 5. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But Hudak was hip to a higher wattage.

“I tried to bring some of the merriment from there down here,” he says. “An awful lot of people loved it.”

And an awful lot didn’t. “We got ridiculed. The first reaction was extremely negative. I found notes in my mailbox that said, ‘Yankee, go home.’”

War is heck.

Once people got it, all went well ... till Barry “Mad Dog” Gottleib originated the Tacky Xmas Decoration and Grand Highly Illuminated House Tour.

When Hudak moved to his Henrico County cul-de-sac in 1987, he says, “It really took off. We saw multiple limos, buses and people backed up to the highway.”

It didn’t help - or rather, it did help - that Hudak had won top honors in Mad Dog’s first Tacky Xmas competition.

(Trivia time: The Phifer home at 9606 Asbury Court, another perennial holiday favorite, won third place that year; the Phifers and Hudaks consistently placed in the top three as long as the competition lasted.)

As Wistar Court’s notoriety increased, so did its volume of traffic. Not all the neighbors were aglow over Hudak’s 14,000 lights. 14,000? So watt?

This year, Hudak’s home boasts 50,000 bulbs. That’s 18,000 watts. Not to mention 65 lighted figures, four miles of electrical wiring and his “Christmas Star in the Heavens,” which shines 60 feet above ground.

But more lights doesn’t mean more complaints. “In the beginning,” Hudak says, “it was such a novelty that everyone tried to come the last three days before Christmas. Now they know it’s here. It has leveled out.”

Also, few buses try to negotiate the cul-de-sac now; they let passengers off farther back.

Hudak still gets a glow from it all. “One year,” he says, “the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile came by. It’s the first time I saw a hot dog with Christmas wreaths. Jimmy Dean has been here several times and just about every radio personality in town.”

Hudak, whose job with WTVR-FM (Lite 98) fell victim to the Clear Channel layoffs, now works as a deputy sheriff with the Henrico County Sheriff’s Department. Unfortunately, he’s had to ask co-workers to come by his home in an official capacity: Someone has been vandalizing his yard, even as he prepares it for a grand illumination (which will take place at 6 p.m. Dec. 3).

The theft of his lighted igloo especially bothered Hudak because he made it himself. “I was really down in the dumps,” he says. The weekend before, half a dozen illuminated candy canes had disappeared.

Hudak finally “shook it loose” by building a new igloo. But, he says, “it made me sick. I would never touch anything that belongs to anyone else and I resent that someone would come on my property [and steal].”

Thankfully for Richmond, Hudak is not about to let hooligans destroy his holiday tradition. “I thought, ‘There’s too many hundreds and hundreds of people who love it.’” Got that right.

Lucky for the Virginia Home for Boys & Girls, too. Over the years, Hudak has collected $45,000 in donations for the home. This year, he’s aiming to make it to $50,000. $50,000. 50,000 lights. Watt a bright idea.

© 2004, Richmond Newspapers Inc.



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