The Times photo by Betsy Reason
The Reynolds Farm Equipment Christmas Lights, which have been donated to Conner Prairie, will become part of A Merry Prairie Holiday festival, a new event that opens on Friday and continues through Dec. 31 at Conner Prairie in Fishers.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason The Reynolds Farm Equipment Christmas Lights, which have been donated to Conner Prairie, will become part of A Merry Prairie Holiday festival, a new event that opens on Friday and continues through Dec. 31 at Conner Prairie in Fishers.
Gary Reynolds never likes to make a big deal about anything that his family does.
But yet the Reynolds family continues to amaze us with its generosity.
Five years ago, in November 2014, Gary Reynolds and his wife, Cindy, and the Reynolds family -- of Reynolds Farm Equipment -- pledged $1 million over 10 years to Conner Prairie in Fishers.
Two months later, in January 2015, on the heels of Conner Prairie’s largest individual gift, the Reynolds family announced a commitment to sponsor the 1859 Balloon Voyage at Conner Prairie. Through the end of 2019, the Reynolds family would provide $375,000 -- $75,000 per year for five years -- to cover the cost to operate the helium balloon and its then new exhibit space. The balloon, which was constructed in Paris, features Reynolds Farm Equipment’s corporate logo, with a tractor.
With the balloon commitment coming to an end in December, I asked, “Now what?”
“We just re-signed for three more years, and hopefully more years to come as time goes on,” said Reynolds, 76, Noblesville, during an exclusive interview with The Times.
Three more years is the expected life of the balloon, he said. “If they don’t get another three years (from the balloon), it won’t make any difference. We’ll still participate.”
Conner Prairie has been a place close to his heart since he was in his 20s, said the 1961 graduate of the first Fishers High School.
Earlier this year, the Reynolds family announced that the Reynolds Farm Equipment Christmas Lights would be donated to Conner Prairie. The lights will become part of A Merry Prairie Holiday festival, a new event that opens on Friday and continues through Dec. 31 at the interactive history park.
The donation is the same highly popular lighting display that has been erected annually during the holidays for the community to enjoy for the past 26 years at the 64-year-old family-owned business at Indiana 37 and 126th Street in Fishers.
This week, the Reynolds family would traditionally get together and “flip the switch” on their lighting display, which he loved. “We made it a big deal because of our parents,” he said.
Reynolds looked back on the years of holiday lights. “We enjoyed having the open houses … We enjoyed it as a family. And employees enjoyed it, too.… Coming down the lane, seeing all of the people who came to see the lights, and greeting them as they came inside.”
Reynolds said, “There is an aspect that I am sad about … But I also knew, in the long run, and probably in the short run, ‘now’s the time.’”
But he is happy that the lights will be at Conner Prairie.
“We just love Conner Prairie,” he said.
Donating the Reynolds Christmas Lights, he said, was “a matter of timing.”
Reynolds started thinking back about his father’s advice. “I can remember a couple of things my dad told me many times: ‘Timing is everything, and nothing lasts forever. And just remember those things.’”
He said, “Those two things he taught me about just all came to fruition on these Christmas lights.”
With the road construction at 126th Street and Indiana 37, the traffic congestion and public safety challenges were going to make getting into see the lights more difficult. “We want people, when they visit the lights, to have a safe venue,” Reynolds said. “...It was getting harder to get people in. If the roundabout had already been done … that might have been different. We think the next couple of years is going to be a pretty difficult situation.”
Timing was right for Conner Prairie, too. Donation of the Reynolds Farm Equipment Christmas Lights fit with Conner Prairie’s strategic plan to make the interactive history park a year-round venue. A Merry Prairie Holiday festival will offer all kinds of activities, just as the Headless Horseman Halloween festival does.
“We thought maybe the (Reynolds) Christmas lights could be a small part of what they’re going to do,” he said.
While some may visit A Merry Prairie Holiday to see the Reynolds lights, there will be much more to see and do. “I know how creative they are at Conner Prairie, so I think they’re going to be able to place the lights in certain areas to enhance the rest of their program they’re going to be doing over the holidays,” Reynolds said.
“I feel very good about it,” said the past member of Conner Prairie’s board of directors and current president of Reynolds Farm Equipment, which moved its headquarters from Fishers to Atlanta. His family, starting with parents A.W. “Mac” and Arline Reynolds, has supported Conner Prairie since 1987.
Conner Prairie, a Smithsonian affiliate, that brings to life the story of William Conner in the year 1836, has earned numerous awards, including the 2010 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, presented by former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Reynolds Farm Equipment in December 2020 will celebrate its 65th anniversary of the company, which was founded on Dec. 15, 1955.
Reynolds said, “Anytime you’re in business that many years, it’s a celebration.”
When Reynolds Farm Equipment donated the Christmas Lights, he said they didn’t just haul the lights over to Conner Prairie, put them in a pile and wish them luck. He offered up two of his own Reynolds employees who have been working at Conner Prairie for the past two months, setting up the Reynolds Christmas lights. “We’ll continue to do that,” he said. “...We want it to be successful.”
He said, “We wanted to make sure that they get off to a good start … We want to make sure it looks good, too … I can't wait to see it.”
Reynolds’ two employees will help maintain the lights, too. And if Conner Prairie needs assistance taking down the lights? “If they need help, all they have to do is call, and we’ll help them do that,” Reynolds said. “...We’re not leaving them high and dry. We’ve got some feelings about it ourselves, so we all want it to go well … If they need help next year, all they have to do is call.”
Reynolds Farm Equipment kept a few of the lights that were on the building. The business also kept the beautiful lighted cross that, year-round, stands high and visible as Indiana 37 drivers ascend from the Interstate-69 overpass. “We re-lit it,” he said. “It’s going to stay there in Fishers.” Reynolds said, “We get a lot of emails supporting the cross (which has been on display since the venue’s change of layout in 2015)”
About a month ago, Reynolds Farm Equipment put all new lights on the cross. “We aim to keep that,” he said.
Other than that, for the most part, Conner Prairie took “everything we had,” Reynolds said. “....We’ll see how they use them all. It’s going to be interesting.”
He said, “What they put out, and what they don’t put out is up to them.”
Reynolds Farm Equipment gave the lights with no strings attached. “I don’t like gifting with strings attached,” Reynolds said.
He had the same attitude when he pledged $1 million over 10 years to Conner Prairie. “I told them they could spend the money on payroll, or they could spend it on heat and lights of janitorial service, or whatever,” he said.
“The biggest reason for the gift was to encourage other people to do the same thing.”
-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.