INVERNESS, Fla. (AP) - A disabled Vietnam war veteran and his wife will pull the plug on their large display of Christmas lights on Jan. 5 because they aren't physically able to continue putting it together.
Frank Sojka told the Tampa Bay Times (http://bit.ly/1cARMXG ) that he's just not able to continue putting up the winter wonderland outside his house in Inverness. The display includes more than 300,000 Christmas lights and a handcrafted outdoor display that includes an 18-foot high reindeer, nativity scene and Santa in his sleigh and is well known in the area.
"My knees are shot," said Frank Sojka, 68, who suffered severe injuries from a land mine explosion while serving in Vietnam. I've loved it, but I simply can't do it anymore."
Sojka and his wife Linda start putting together the display just before Halloween, hauling out the lights and assembling decorations. The display typically opens for visitors on Dec. 1.
And once the lights go on, the work doesn't stop for the couple. They play host to hundreds of guests who stop by to view the lights every night through the holiday season.
"It's just something we started doing because we love to see people smile," Linda Sojka said.
They hand out free hot chocolate, cookies and stuffed animals to children. And Frank Sojka plays the role of Santa Clause.
The couple started a much smaller display some 30 years ago when the lived in St. Petersburg. She says her husband quickly became obsessed with hanging Christmas lights. Each year he wanted to make the display more elaborate.
When they moved to Inverness in 1991, they installed a 200-amp service box to accommodate the Christmas display.
"Frank was so passionate about it," she said.
Over time, it became a bit of a financial burden for the couple - with electric costs to run the lights costing $2,500 last year.
"At some point, you have to look at reality," Frank Sojka said. "It's just the way it is."
Starting next year, the couple will put up only what they can do in one day. And they plan to sell many of the decorations.
"We'll miss it, and we'll miss seeing all the people that came to see the display" Linda Sojka said. "But we have lots of memories to share and that's something we'll have forever."
Information from: Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.), http://www.tampabay.com.
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