Dan Hiteshew has been doing his part to make Christmas merry and bright since he was a young boy.
“I have always decorated a lot at home,” he said. “I was into the lights – helping my friends decorate.”
A lifelong Windber resident, the 32-year-old said he remembers looking forward to the borough’s light-up night. “I wanted to be a part of it and make it more if I could,” he said.
These days he’s living his dream.
As chairman for light-up night, he has helped develop the event into one that includes the lighting of the tree as well as the park and activities at the Arcadia Theater. Festivities at the theater include performances by high school musicians and a visit by Santa. There also are treat bags and goodies for everyone.
But light-up night is only the beginning of Hiteshew’s Christmas decorating.
He also oversees the borough’s holiday street lights, coordinating their placement and making sure each one is in working order.
As house and grounds director at Arcadia, he is in charge of decorating the theater – inside and out.
Hiteshew said he usually gravitates to the old-fashioned displays – often picking up motorized decorations that were showcased in department store windows. Most of his finds are discovered on eBay.
“A lot of times they are broken,” Hiteshew said. “Arms may not work, motors broken.
“My dad helps me. We really try to bring them back to life.”
This year, the theater lobby features life-size figures of Scrooge meeting the Ghost of Christmas Future and Bob Cratchit with Tiny Tim.
“We drove six hours to go pick them up,” Hiteshew said. “They were in New Jersey.”
The display is so attractive that the Arcadia Guild is using it as a backdrop for family photos to be shot from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday and Dec. 16 as a way to raise funds for the theater.
As part owner of Something Xtra Special, a flower and gift shop at 311 14th St. in the borough, Hiteshew’s decorating skills are becoming well known in the area. These days, in addition to decorating his own shop, he does the Christmas trees at Johnstown’s Holiday Inn.
And then there is his home on Baumgardner Avenue.
“He does a huge Christmas display at the house outside for people to enjoy,” said his wife, the former Victoria Bense.
Inside the house, he decorates a large tree with glass ornaments that he has collected over the years. There is also a tree decorated with a country theme and another in the bedroom of his daughter, Olivia.
“He’s also a huge ‘A Christmas Story’ fan,” his wife said. “He has ‘A Christmas Story’ village that he puts up. When (the movie) is on television for 24 hours it plays all day long at our house.”
Hiteshew met his wife when she was working as an undertaker at Marron Funeral Home in the borough.
“I was walking home from my grandma’s and (Bense) was out front (of the funeral home), watering a tree,” Hiteshew recalled.
“She asked if I were Dan as she had heard my name as someone who was interested in starting a volunteer group.”
Victoria Hiteshew, who now owns Richland Memorials on Scalp Avenue, also is very involved in the Windber community and with volunteering.
“Neither one of us is the kind of person who walks through life and expects others to do things for us,” she said. “It’s very important to do things for your town. We’ve never said ‘No.’ ”
Victoria Hiteshew said her husband is a good father who includes their daughter in many of his projects.
“He is one of those people that is very enthusiastic and is good at getting her involved,” she said.
“She doesn’t care what’s going on. She’s right there with me,” Dan Hiteshew said.
Hiteshew also gets help from a dedicated group of volunteers. “You don’t realize how much stuff has to be moved from place to place. It involves trucks and moving a lot of things,” he said. “Christmas is a lot of work.”
His tasks begin during the summer with designing and planning for the displays. Hiteshew also makes sure the future Christmas trees are trimmed the way they need to be for lighting.
“I love Christmas,” Hiteshew said. “It gets a little overwhelming after a while, but when you see the kid’s faces – they just love it. I like to try to bring a little bit of joy to the kids if I can.”
Hiteshew’s wife said it’s why he does what he does that makes her husband special.
“I think the thing that stands out the most is the reason that he does it,” she said.
“If you listen to him talk, it is because he likes other people to enjoy it.”
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