Eat your heart out, Clark Griswold.
Because Bainbridge Island’s own Wiley Jones Irwin is not only matching Chevy Chase’s most famous character’s enthusiasm for elaborate holiday decorating, but he’s doing it for a selfless cause as well.
The display outside his home on Hyla Avenue NE boasts, by his own conservative estimate, more than 100 figurines and roughly 40,000 total lights.
It took him about a year — “here and there,” Irwin said — to put it all together.
“I switched over from mainly incandescents to now maybe 85 [to] 90 percent LEDs,” he said. “It’s definitely something that, in my opinion, Bainbridge hasn’t seen before.
“And that’s why I like to do it. To see like a big, big display … it’s almost like a city block of lights, walking around our lot … you can’t get that around here. You have to either go to Bremerton, Port Orchard, Kingston Marina, step away from the island. And that’s what I’m trying to do is bring something like that closer to the island for folks that are really busy or don’t have time, and also for anyone who wants to see it.”
Irwin has gone above and beyond with his decorating in seasons past, but said he never before attempted anything quite like this year’s display.
And the response has been immediate and enthusiastic — already, folks are stopping by for a gander.
“My favorite thing is to have people when they come they’re like, ‘Whoa!’” Irwin said. “That’s the thing, I love seeing people say, ‘Whoa, that’s awesome!’
“Every bulb, when my fingers were hurting, when I was putting lights on a wire frame and my back was hurting doing that, I was still thinking of that expression on people’s faces when they see this; that’s why I do that.”
Irwin incorporates pieces found near and far into his display, some purchased and some donated, including a few hard-to-find antiques, and pays for his passion with money he earns doing odd jobs throughout the year, and by being both frugal and handy, with an eye always open for bargains or fixer-uppers.
“I’m savvy in terms of finding vintage things,” said Irwin, who also often fabricates or constructs original pieces.
In addition to a sudden influx of holiday spirit, visitors to Irwin’s Christmastime wonderland will depart informed, if they choose to inquire, about the good works being done by Rescue Every Dog, a support group for animal shelter workers and animals currently in public shelters in need of special care.
“We are a nonprofit animal rescue that specializes in animals that have medical needs, or their age may make them not great shelter candidates,” said Rescue Every Dog spokeswoman Meghan Lawson.
“Shelters do really great work, but a lot of times they’re helping so many animals that they can’t necessarily take a dog that needs a $3,000 surgery or stuff like that. And they will reach out to our organization to see if we’re able to help. We also will take in older dogs — or, actually, just animals in general. We do dogs, cats, bunnies and some livestock; horses, we have horses, sheep and goats, and then actually chickens and ducks as well.”
Irwin is accepting donations for the nonprofit and handing out informational flyers during his display’s official visiting hours: 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday through Christmas.
The address is 11002 Hyla Ave. NE, and visitors are asked to follow the established traffic route: Enter Hyla Avenue NE from NE Valley Road, then follow the display around NE Albertson Road to Sunrise Drive NE to exit.
Minimal parking is available nearby, and further arrangements are being made with nearby facilities.
Search “A Rolling Bay Christmas” on Facebook for more information.
“It’s important to me because I love dogs,” Irwin said. “I am actually working to be a full-time trainer. I do training on the side, but I’m working to be a full-time trainer and I hate to see dogs be brought into this world without their choice and then they get euthanized without their choice. It’s unfair because they’re brought into this concrete world without a say and that makes me cringe.”
Lawson said that she, having grown up near Irwin’s house, where her parents still live, was familiar with his holiday displays and thankful he chose to use such a platform to tell people about Rescue Every Dog.
“I grew up down the street from where the lives,” she said. “I live in Poulsbo now, but my parents still live down the street.
“He’s been so amazing, not only setting up his display [which] is amazing, I have admired it every time I would go to my parents’ — it’s incredible and I know the amount of work that goes into that is just astronomical — but in reaching out to [others],” she said. “He has advertised on Facebook, he has gotten us signage, just all this stuff. He has been really incredible in helping us.”
In lieu of a grand opening, Irwin has partnered with the Bainbridge Island Fire Department’s beloved Holiday Music Truck for a special celebration, to be held Saturday, Dec. 14.
The truck will be supplying the tunes — but that’s not all that’s on the menu.
Refreshments will be available — candy canes, hot chocolate and more — as well as a visit from the Man in Red himself.
“We’re also having a Santa Claus come that night and a Mrs. Claus,” Irwin said. “I have a full Santa throne, a photographer.”
For those looking for an excuse to see the lights, or hear the truck, it’s a no-brainer.
“If they’ve missed the fire truck or their road isn’t designated for the fire truck to drive down, I know most are but there are some backroads that the fire truck just doesn’t go down,” Irwin said. “I think it’s a really cool thing to invite those groups of people who can come here, experience it with all the lights around.”