VINTON, Iowa - Even 16 months since the appearance of Vinton changed forever, one tradition dating back decades is returning to normal.
"It's the never-ending process this week to get the bugs out of everything," said Heidi Koopman just before flipping the switch to illuminate the 34,000-plus lights at the Kersten-Koopman Christmas light display just north of Vinton.
The lights welcome drivers from miles away and miles are the makeup of the work that goes into what Koopman calls "probably 300 to 400 pieces altogether".
Her husband, Dean Koopman, said they unravel about seven miles of electrical cords to power the lights, the levers and the seemingly endless machinery. Navitity scenes, animals, vintage cartoon characters and, yes, all 101 Dalmatians line the display.
Yet the Koopmans dealt with the same adversity as so many in this city of 5,200 people. Early morning. July 11, 2011. Winds that blew through the area hit more than 120 miles per hour before most people had the chance to wake up.
Everyone in Vinton who lived through it has a story. Heidi said bark from a fallen tree dropped through their damaged roof and onto Dean's pillow.
The damage is still seen today as mangled trees dot the city's streets. Most of the roof damage, especially in the city's older neighborhoods, has been fixed up. One positive is that not many people in town seem to be hurting for firewood as winter sets in.
"You look at all the trees and you can't see a tree that hasn't been touched by it," said Heidi.
The Koopmans have a ritual for starting the organization of the annual display. Labor Day is when it all starts. Only in 2011, they had to keep the wooden reindeer in the shed because of all the wood still on their acreage.
"There was no way I couldn't do it, it was the only thing normal to put the lights back up, the only thing I could think of," said Heidi. The 2011 version was a slimmed-down display because they simply didn't have the eleven weeks from Labor Day to Thanksgiving Day to put all of the items in the proper place.
Now the display is back, at "full power", the latest edition since the first display by Larry and Carolyn Kersten, Heidi's parents, in 1965. Another sign that Vinton is also returning from a storm that took 15 minutes to blow through and more than 15 months to rebuild.
"It's beautiful and it's Christmas and it shows everyone that, even though something bad can happen you're still making something good," said Heidi Koopman. "Still making something that can go on and on."