Willett Way Wonderland: A Christmas tradition
By Harriet Williams and Tracy K. Hall
Willet Way Wonderland is something folks look forward to all year round. The neighbors join to welcome Christmas lovers from far and near. To get a little history, I sought out the daughter of Santa, Harriet Williams. Harriet, a Willet Way resident herself, was happy to tell the story.
The very first year of the yard decorations was 1997, when Dwayne “Pie” Smith moved to Willet Way and put up a few front yard items and lights on his house. When Harriet moved to the neighborhood in October of 1998, Dwayne’s display was steady growing but was still young in its presentation. Santa first came on the scene in 1998.
Since 1998 the display has grown and prepping the Wonderland has become a neighborhood effort. There is a plethora of blow-ups and decorations for the visitor’s pleasure. A chapel, carousel, over-sized wreaths, which Pie designed and made himself, draw folks to Willet Way every year. Harriet has made trees for the Christmas tree forest, angels, snowflakes and stars of plastic clothes hangers. Other unique items include Santa and 9 reindeer flying through the sky, a penguin pond, several manger scenes, and a second Christmas tree forest. There are speakers in each yard playing holiday music, adding to the Christmas spirit.
Santa has his special house, where, on certain nights, he sits in his red velvet chair, waiting to hear wish lists from children of all ages, and to pose for pictures. Buddy Wilbanks played a well-known and well-loved version of Saint Nick. The jolly man could be found sitting and greeting visitors for pictures. Many a Sumter County family has a picture capturing Christmas memories with Buddy. Buddy passed away in 2013. Jackie Cross was quickly deputized as a Santa and has welcomed folks to the neighborhood since. COVID-19 meant the neighbors would have to come up with a new twist on Santa. He could not go missing in action, so in lieu of a Deputy Santa, there is a lifelike “Faux” Santa. As always, families can make a stop for a picture and to leave their letter for Santa. There are high hopes that a Deputy Santa will once again come to take his seat of honor at Willet Way next year.
Much effort takes place behind the scenes. All the decorations are powered by three dedicated power poles. Nothing, except the music, is powered by any of the houses. Want to give a financial gift so the power can keep running? Look for Santa’s Georgia Power Bill Wishing Well, Contributions to help pay the electricity bill are deeply appreciated. Willet Way Wonderland is lit up nightly, from Thanksgiving night through Christmas night, weather permitting (rain and/or high winds prohibit lighting up), from around 6 pm until around 9:30 pm. Weekends sometimes brings more visitors, and the hours might extend to insure everyone has an opportunity to take in the Christmas festivities at Willet Way Wonderland. Be sure to take in the sights this year. Pie’s Christmas decorations have grown, multiplied and caused his neighbors to gather in a common goal of bringing joy to Americus. For that reason alone, your Christmas will be made merrier for the visit.