Where is all started in 1956 . . . at the home of Harry E. Overly
In 1956, Harry Overly first decorated his rural Armbrust home with just a few strands of lights. Most people would have been content stopping right there but Harry's vision of a light display happened when he was encouraged by the delight of his four children.
"The kids like it," was all Harry Overly would tell anyone as they watched the light display grow. And he wasn't content with hanging strands of lights from the eaves of his house and in the bushes. It was his attention to detail that made the difference. Lights were meticulously intertwined in the branches of trees and strung in perfect rows along miles of fence that outlined his property.
Harry was one of the first people to add animation to his displays. Over the years, the Overly home and surrounding seven acres became a showcase: first attracting neighbors, then people from nearby communities and later people from all over the region. Soon those same neighbors and friends wanted to become involved; they volunteered to play Santa and Mrs. Claus while local young people dressed as elves to hand out lollipops to the children in passing cars. Many a child driving by was convinced that this indeed was where Santa and Mrs. Claus lived.
Then one year, when Harry himself was dressed as Santa Claus, a woman handed him a dollar in appreciation for the marvelous light display that brought so much joy to her children. Harry explained that there was no charge to see the lights, and the woman replied, "Well, give it to your favorite charity!" That simple recommendation was the seed that grew into the vision of the light display someday becoming a charitable fundraiser... But for what cause?
The answer came without hesitation. Harry knew immediately that the light display could only be used to benefit children's causes. During the 35 years that the light display was held at the Overly home, nearly one million dollars was raised by donations from cars passing by and later through an annual preview cocktail party held at the Overly home.
That first one million dollars, raised mostly from coins, was donated to the Free Care Fund at Pittsburgh Children's Hospital and children's medical services at Westmoreland Regional Hospital in Greensburg by the Overly family.
The Story Continues at a Crossroads...
Not long after the 1983-84 holiday season Harry Overly suffered a heart attack. It was a long recuperation and doctors advised Harry to take a year off from the light display. Christmas didn't quite seem the same at the Overly home. The following year doctors were still encouraging Harry to take it easy, and he agreed that putting up the display by himself would be a daunting task, but he found he wasn't alone. Countless friends, neighbors and beneficiaries of his donations said, "Let us find a way to help." They didn't want to see the magical display end, and then realized it had become too much for one man and his family. That fall, school groups, business associates, individuals, friends and neighbors volunteered to set up the lights.
From that point on, Harry realized that the display had a life of its own and the potential to grow even larger as a place to create holiday family memories and to continue to help children in need. The twinkling lights and the promise of donations to help children had captured the hearts and imagination of hundreds of people who were willing to commit their own time to make it survive and grow.
In 1991, Harry announced that the light display at his home would end and that he was in search of a new, larger home where even more people could see the lights. In 1992, with the holiday season rapidly approaching, Idlewild Park in Ligonier agreed to become a temporary site for the display in its transitional effort to find a new home. The following year, in 1993, a new home was found at the Westmoreland Fairgrounds near Greensburg. Then, in 1994, Harry established a nonprofit corporation to ensure that his work would continue when he was no longer able.
Today, Overly's Country Christmas® is operated mainly by volunteers who continue bringing holiday traditions and memories to all who visit and to help those less fortunate.
In Harry's Own Words . . .
A Tribute to Harry Overly