While you were admiring the Festival of Lights Million White Lights during the holidays, you were viewing decades of work by volunteers like Janyce Hazlett.
She is one of the three FOL co-founders and this year’s board president who ensured the lights would return every year upon the palo verde trees, ocotillo and saguaro cactus in the median between 24th Street and Desert Foothills Parkway.
But with the new decade comes change.
After residing in Ahwatukee for 26 years, Hazlett and her husband Bill are building a house in east Mesa and she’s retiring from the nonprofit organization she helped found in 1995 with Susan Ballman and Dawn McGraw.
Hazlett and her husband served as the first co-treasurers for the then-fledgling nonprofit and led the Lighted Motorcycle Parade for 13 years astride their Harleys.
Hazlett recalled how the idea to establish the Festival of Lights was the result of a conversation at the couple’s annual holiday party in 1994.
“Most everyone knows the lights display on Chandler Boulevard during the holiday season had been placed there before by the original builder of the area, Del Webb, to attract homeowners to the new neighborhoods being developed in the Ahwatukee Foothills,” she said.
“But when the area was built out, the lights Del Webb had put up each holiday came down and they were sorely missed by the residents in 1994 and 1995,” Hazlett continued.
“So, Susan Ballman, Dawn McCraw and I cooked up the idea to bring the lights back. The installer for Del Webb was located and the medians were lit once again. The funding for the display was no longer supplied by the builder, so we had to investigate ways to raise funds to support the display.”
Ballman, who moved from Ahwatukee to San Tan Valley two years ago with her husband Jeff Williams, remembers that night at the Hazletts’ party.
“This is where the Festival of Lights organization began, a grassroots community effort to bring back the display and all the events that went along with it to provide funds to orchestrate the light display,” said Ballman who with her husband toiled tirelessly at events for years.
“The Hazletts have been an integral part of this organization,” she added. “They’ll be greatly missed, yet we can rest assured knowing the light display was brighter thanks to the years of work, dedication and effort they put into it.”
Putting their vision into motion took work and networking, but with their enthusiasm high, the women gathered volunteers to join them in the hard part – raising funds. They also obtained the FOL’s nonprofit status.
The all-volunteer committee called on friends to suggest ways to bring the community together for social events to raise the money, coming up with a wine tasting, a casino night and a large festival in Desert Foothills Park.
“However, we were still quite short of the funds to light the entire mile of medians between Desert Foothills Parkway and 24th Street,” Hazlett recalled.
Reasoning that lights contributed to the overall beautification of the community, the committee ask the Foothills and Club West homeowners associations for a small annual donation “to keep the tradition bright.”
Both did – and have contributed every year since.
“Over the years, there have been several obstacles to surmount with an endeavor this large – from the growing list and rising cost of required permits for the events, to the continuing maintenance of the infrastructure of the lights themselves,” said Hazlett.
“But it’s wonderful to receive very positive comments each and every year from the residents who say it completes their holiday season,” she added.
The FOL board eventually settled on two main annual fundraisers – the FOL Beer & Wine Tasting Party, which will be held April 17 and the FOL Holiday Kick-Off Party held the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Hazlett recalled another activity held concurrent with the Kick-Off proved popular, but too labor-intensive and expensive.
“During several festivals we even held hayrides from the park to the entrance of Telegraph Pass where we served hot chocolate and cookies and had a short luminaria hike up the trail,” she said. “However, this was a costly and challenging endeavor which was discontinued after several years.
“Many of the homeowners formed their own side group called ‘Deck the Walls’ where they strung lights on the walls around Desert Foothills Parkway, and a few still participate, separate from the FOL.”
The two annual FOL fundraisers and local business sponsorships were – and remain – the mainstays for keeping the lights ablaze.
“During the early 2000’s, our primary sponsors were Realtors, title companies, medical and dental offices and various local businesses. The monies raised at these events went directly to fund the lights and we were fortunate many folks from these companies, from schools and lots of community supporters became involved and joined committees or just showed up to take on any tasks,” Hazlett said.
“Although there were some challenging years during the recession and our sponsors thinned out somewhat, most returned in recent years and seem proud to be supporters,” said Hazlett.
The FOL soon partnered with other charities for help and support. Every year, for their volunteer efforts and auction contributions related to the lights fundraisers - three charities are selected to share a portion of the proceeds.
This year those charities are Kiwanis Club of Ahwatukee, Clothes Cabin and the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA.
Hazlett’s job and a couple knee surgeries sidelined her for a while.
“We still attended the events and supported the organization and it wasn’t long before we were drawn in again,” she said.
“After recovering from my second knee replacement, the then-FOL president stepped down and a new president was needed,” she explained. “I admit I was somewhat reluctant as I hadn’t been familiar with all the many facets of the association, but I persevered and became familiar with several organizations.”
Organizations such as the Ahwatukee Chamber of Commerce, Y OPAS, the BNI networking group, Kyrene School District and several charities gave their support to FOL, as did motorcycle dealerships and organizations, AFN and both the Foothills and Club West HOAs and their management companies, providing “volunteers and fresh ideas about the events,” Hazlett said.
As Hazlett steps away from the Festival of Lights, she is optimistic about its future as it heads into its 25th year in 2020.
“At this time, we’re thrilled to have a very strong committee made up of some business owners, members of charities, and people who simply want to devote some of their time to this fun and fulfilling organization,” she said.
Former FOL Board president Kristine Kemper met Hazlett in 1993 at the Foothills Women’s Club and calls her “one of the dwindling number of faithful volunteers that have been at the heart of the Festival of Light’s success since its founding.”
Kemper, a jewelry and glass bead designer, served on the FOL board from 1997 to 2012, the last three as board president. Her husband Jim Crouch was FOL board president in 2008-2009.
“Without the direction provided by Janyce and those precious few like her, the lights might have gone out years ago,” Ballman said. “She will be missed.”
Nancy Dudenhoefer, a 21-year Ahwatukee resident who joined the FOL board in 1998, agrees.
“Janyce and Bill are the ones that kept the lighted Harley Santa Parade going when new logistical requirements threatened it. And, Janyce has worked diligently to make sure FOL events not only benefit the lights display but the tradition of donating to other community nonprofits continues,” said Dudenhoefer, now assistant director of development of KJZZ, KBACH, Spot 127 and Sun Sounds of Arizona.
“She has always ensured our local public schools have the chance to participate at the Kickoff Party with their performance groups – something families from the Kyrene School District look forward to each year.”
Hazlett said her time with FOL has impacted her immensely.
“Bill and I have decided to downsize and, sadly, depart Ahwatukee for another area of the Valley,” she said.
“I will still stay involved as long as the organization needs me and hope to attend future events. I have grown in ways I never thought I would and thoroughly enjoyed it along the way.”