Long-time Ahwatukee resident Henry Ibarra is on a one-man quest to keep the happy in Halloween.
This Oct. 31 marks the 19th year Ibarra has transformed the family home into a much-anticipated Halloween haunted house event.
In years past, his wife Melissa and daughters Bianca and Mia have hosted a Halloween haunted house in their elaborately staged two-car garage at 4641 East Frye Road.
This year, due to COVID-19, the parameters have changed but not even a pandemic can keep Ibarra from making sure local families and their children can celebrate Oct. 31 with spooky fun.
“I’m not building a haunted house inside my garage this year; I’m doing a socially-distanced outdoor haunted house,” said Ibarra, an employee with Phoenix-based Avnet where’s he worked for 32 years.
“I am setting up all my props outside so people can see it from the sidewalk, or driving by,” explained Ibarra, adding that the full moon will add to the evening’s ambience.
Typically, Ibarra would take a week off work to put together his haunted house, but with the necessitated change of venue, Ibarra has scheduled two weeks.
“I’m going to get creative so I took two weeks off,” he confessed.
Presenting his annual Halloween haunted house has its roots in his childhood growing up in Phoenix.
“As a child, I always loved Halloween with all the spooky stuff. I’m the youngest of eight kids, and as children, my parents couldn’t afford to take us all to a haunted house where they charged,” he reminisced.
“Now as an adult, I like to think I’m bringing the haunted house to the community for free for families to enjoy.”
The Ibarra family started presenting their Halloween Haunted House when they lived on E. Dry Creek Road in Ahwatukee and continued the tradition upon moving to Maricopa.
When they returned to Ahwatukee at their Frye Road house, they once again offered it free of charge to the community.
“The Haunted House is a little on the spooky side. Even when I had the haunted house inside, I would warn parents to cover the little ones’ eyes. It’s scary but it’s nothing too disturbing, nothing gory,” he said.
Every year, Ibarra worked to add new and spooky images in his haunted house and was rewarded as the crowds continued to grow.
When Halloween ended, Ibarra was already determining what he might add for the following year.
Last year, he had exciting additions planned for Halloween for 2020.
“I told myself, man, 2020 is going to be a great year and then this happens,” he said addressing the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns and new rules governing people and places. “But like with any type of change, you have to adapt to it.”
Even in his outdoor haunted house, Ibarra will be incorporating one creepy prop he’s had for more than a decade.
“The oldest prop I have is a handmade coffin that was made by a friend and given to me 11 years ago,” he said of the custom wooden burial piece perched on a bier and propped open to reveal a glaring gargoyle, wig-bedecked skeleton or other frightful character.
Another annual treat for those coming by the Ibarra house is their Halloween tree – a traditional Christmas tree in the Ibarra’s picture window shining with untraditional orange lights and Halloween ornaments.
This component of Halloween is the provenance of his wife of 26 years, Melissa and their two daughters, Bianca, 21 and an Arizona State University student, and Mia, an Akimel A-al Middle School seventh grader.
Melissa Ibarra, who teaches at Mesa’s Carson Junior High School, said the family’s Halloween tree is already lit and decorated with her Halloween ornament collection.
It’s part of a tradition the whole family, but especially her husband, enjoy.
“Henry loves Halloween,” she said. “He loves to set up the haunted house every year, and it brings back childhood memories for him. When he was growing up he had a neighbor that would do the same and it made Henry excited and happy, so he says he wants to do the same for our girls and kids in the neighborhood to make it memorable and fun for them,” she said.
“He takes pride in what he does and he works hard at it. Unfortunately, this year because of COVID, he’s displaying the haunted house out on the lawn. He has some props up now but on Saturday, Halloween night, he’ll have everything set up and ready.”
“I think people were concerned if there was going to be much of Halloween because they thought the state might not allow kids to trick-or-treat. Even then, I thought, well, at least they can drive by and see the outdoor haunted house,” he said.
“And it’s really a shame because Halloween falls on Saturday this year. Even when Halloween was on a weekday, we’d have tons of people go through the haunted house,” he said.
The time and money spent creating the haunted house to share with the community annually isn’t because Ibarra doesn’t have plenty else to occupy his time and mind.
Besides his Avnet career, he is an actor and currently starring in “Out West” as Clem Newton also starring Eric Roberts.
Episode 2, filmed in Heber, Arizona, appears Oct. 24 on greatamericanwesterns.com. He has also acted in other movies.
Busy schedule or not, pulling the plethora of boxes filled with Halloween props out of storage every October is something Ibarra wouldn’t miss for anything – especially this year.
“With so much trouble going on in the world, we have to put a little joy out there, and this is my way of doing that,” said Ibarra.