It's the most wonderful time of the year and we're walking in a winter wonderland thanks to the long time tradition Bentleyville.
"Bentleyville is a magical place that transports those young and old back to simpler times when getting together as a community was something to look forward to. Bentleyville is unlike other events around the country, where many of the events try to sell the visitors something or charge an entry fee. We want everyone to come out and enjoy each other's company and have fun!" said Tim Rogentine, Bentleyville's Administrative Assistant. His favorite part? "Seeing children's faces when they see the lights or when they are visiting with Santa - it just warms the heart seeing the event from their perspective."
Bentleyville first came to be in 2001 when creator Nathan Bentley first started to decorate for the Christmas season. Each year he made it bigger and bigger until his friends started calling it Bentleyville; this finally caught on and stuck in 2003. At his home in Esko, this Bentleyville attraction was bringing in over 35,000 visitors and in 2008 Mayor Don Ness's office called him down to invite the Bentleyville Tour of Lights to come down to Bayfront Festival Park. In November of 2009 Bentleyville lit up its lights for over 150,000 visitors down at Bayfront. From there it's all history.
This year is no different, and after getting in touch with Bentleyville's administrative assistant Tim Rogentine, I was able to get some interesting answers. Mr. Rogentine has only been a part of this for a year but was asked by Mr. Bentley to join the crew through his position at Advantage Emblem & Screen Printing. Including him, he said, "Bentleyville has a small staff of roughly 25 people, but we have hundreds of volunteers participate in the setup and running of Bentleyville."
Bentleyville is completely free, and that has never changed. How do they afford to put on all of those lights every year one may ask? Rogentine stated, "Bentleyville relies on donations from area business and the Duluth community. Many people think that our electrical bill is very large, but it is actually one of the smallest bills that we have. Each year, Bentleyville raises around $400,000 to operate the event. Most of the money raised goes to cookies, hot cocoa, coffee, marshmallows, popcorn, new displays and materials to install all of the decorations."
But how do the light designs get chosen and what's new this year? "Every January, after the event, the staff gets together and discusses what went well, what didn't work and what we should add for the next season. We get many ideas and we pick the best ones. For 2013, we came up with a lot of great ideas. We added a "Thanks to our Troops" display with the logos from each branch of the military, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Sesame Street, and we added Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
Rogentine said that they had over 206,000 visitors last year and this year they are expecting 225,000 visitors. And although they've only signed their contract through the 2015 holiday season, "Bentleyville has no intentions of going elsewhere as long as the City of Duluth will allow us to hold the event at Bayfront Festival Park."