Credit: Kerri Pang

It’s a brutally cold, snowy night in mid-December, and on the corner of Belle Plaine Avenue and Engel Boulevard in Park Ridge, a large Tudor-style house is awash in purple light. “Dearly beloved,” an unmistakable voice resounds through outdoor speakers, “we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” That intro to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” transitions into the opening of “Alphabet St.” Strobe lights speckle the house and front yard, and the late artist’s iconic “Love Symbol #2” flashes on a 25-foot-high video grid constructed over
the chimney.

This elaborate production is the third edition of the annual holiday light show of Tom and Tina Grusecki. Requiring months of prep, the display draws hundreds of visitors from Chicagoland and beyond.

“People have been coming from all over—from Kentucky, Minnesota, Tennessee, downstate Illinois, Wisconsin—just to see the show,” says Tom, president and chief executive officer of developer Northern Builders.

Tonight, even though the falling snow has turned into freezing rain, small clumps of people still huddle outside to gawk at the arena-quality light spectacular. Others are observing it from the warmth of their cars, their radio dials tuned to 98.1 FM, which is broadcasting the musical program on a loop.

It’s easy to see the draw. The Internet teems with videos of eye-catching Christmas light shows synced to music, but few are as captivating—or as Princely—as the Gruseckis’. A medley of hits includes snippets of “My Name Is Prince,” “Kiss,” “1999,” “Raspberry Beret,” “Little Red Corvette,” and “I Would Die 4 U,” throughout which thousands of lights and dozens of decorations flash in time: Christmas trees, snowflakes, wreaths, gift boxes, Santa’s sleigh, as well as an oversize guitar and an all-white drum kit also bearing the Love Symbol. (Never mind that Prince himself was a Jehovah’s Witness and therefore didn’t celebrate Christmas.) A video projection of Santa appears in an upstairs window, seeming to conduct the whole spectacle.

“We usually start planning this in April—just talking about it, getting some drawings down of what we want to do,” Tina says. “This April, Prince had just passed, and my heart was heavy.” A longtime fan, she says the idea of paying tribute to the Purple One was something of a no-brainer. They communicated the idea to their programmer, Ron Duszak of Pennsylvania-based company Events Done Bright, and then started doing the physical work of building the show in October.

“I think, with Prince, what’s nice about it is it has brought all sorts of people together—a lot of people outside Park Ridge,” Tina says. “My heart still is heavy, but it makes me smile because there are so many people who are his fans, and I’d like to say they’re family. When we see each other, right away there are hugs. You feel like you know each other.”

Credit: Kerri Pang

Another thing that sets the Gruseckis’ show apart is a charitable element. The couple has installed a donation box outside, encouraging visitors to give to two organizations: Salute Inc, which delivers short-term financial assistance to military service members, veterans, and their families; and Misericordia, which serves children and adults with developmental and physical disabilities.

“We started [the light show] as a way to raise money for Wounded Warriors,” Tina says. “It was very successful our first year, so we keep growing it each year. We hope this year’s [fund-raising efforts] will top the charts for us.” Last year’s donations exceeded $25,000.

“What’s nice,” Tom adds, “is that people tell us that this has become part of their annual tradition.”   v