By helping transform Central Park in Oak Brook into a light-filled wonderland, College of DuPage alumnus Robert Pechous gives local residents a holiday gift to enjoy with loved ones.
Now in its fourth year, the Winter Lights at Central Park presented by the Oak Brook Park District features more than 100,000 lights spread across 10 different scenes, with more than 80 percent of the display animated. Nearly 29,000 people attended the free event last year, with strong crowds once again expected to walk along a half-mile paved path to enjoy the holiday magic.
Pechous, who is the superintendent of Communications and IT for the park district, said the event began in 2020 when the district looked for a way to bring people outdoors safely during the pandemic.
“Our director knew I did this at my own house, so we transformed a park that would rarely be used on chilly fall and winter nights,” he said. “We initially offered free tickets to maintain social distancing, but now it all are welcome with no tickets required.”
Pechous begins the design process in July, with the physical installation starting in late October and taking three to four weeks to complete. He designs and computerizes the entire display, synchronizing the lights to music and determining the optimum placement and use of speakers.
Keeping the event free is a priority for both the district and Pechous.
“I grew up in a big household and know that for some families, it’s difficult to afford taking everyone to an event,” he said. “We therefore look for partnerships every year to fund the display.”
One of this year’s partners is COD, where Pechous completed his general education requirements before transferring to Northern Illinois University. He frequently returns to the College to take classes on the latest computer technology, and he looks for COD graduates to hire as assistants.
In addition to the Oak Brook event, Pechous continues to decorate his Wheaton home and attracts holiday lovers from around the suburbs. The display, now in its 12th year, also raises funds for muscular dystrophy, with approximately $30,000 collected so far.
Despite designing two holiday displays annually, Pechous enjoys the work and looks forward to incorporating new aspects into the Park District event.
“It’s the most unique free walk-through event in the area, and we don’t want it to be the same every year,” he said. “I’ve always liked holiday lights and always liked computers, so this is a way to combine both passions.”