Scout Tribute

Mary Brunstad hangs snowflakes Monday on a tribute in Irvine Park in Chippewa Falls dedicated to the Girl Scouts who were killed while picking up roadside garbage last year. View more photos at

CHIPPEWA FALLS — A new display in Christmas Village in Irvine Park will honor the three Girl Scouts and a mother who died in a crash in November 2018.

The display is next to the duck pond and lists the names of those who died in the crash.

Parks director Dick Hebert said the city received permission to use the artwork, and students at Chippewa Falls High School painted it.

“For me, it’s about how our community came together to deal with that tragedy and help people in need,” Hebert said. “I really like where they decided the display should go; it’s on a nice spot, all by itself.”

Mary Brunstad, who has volunteered in creating Christmas Village each year for the past two decades, said she wanted the display to be respectful to the families and also be a remembrance for those who knew the four people who died.

“It’s almost a place of healing, in a way,” Brunstad said. “I think it was nicely done.”

Brunstad added: “This year, my thing is celebrating the lives of the children, not the tragedy.”

The four people killed in the Nov. 3, 2018, crash were Jayna S. Kelley, 9, Autumn A. Helgeson, 10, both of Lake Hallie, Haylee J. Hickle, 10, and her mother, Sara Jo Schneider, 32, both of the town of Lafayette.

Brian Kelley, Jayna’s father, was impressed with the artwork.

“It’s very touching to see the beautiful display they’ve created,” Brian Kelley said. “The holidays are a very hard time for my family without Jayna, just as it surely is for the other families. It helps us get by when we see that the community continues to remember our beautiful girls. I’m very grateful to those who created this tribute to honor Jayna, Autumn, Haylee and Sara.”

Christmas Village was created in 1987, and it features about 200 displays and more than 60,000 lights. Hebert said more were added this year. Some of the aging electrical pedestals were renovated this fall as well. It takes months to create the village; work typically begins in late September, with the first lights going up during Oktoberfest weekend.

“The reason it keeps getting bigger is people contribute to it,” Hebert said. “They give their money or their time, and that is why it’s so successful.”

Saturday is the eighth annual “Run for the Lights” 5K race. Last year, the event raised $5,620.

The electric bill for the village’s light display is about $3,000. The park has several donation boxes to offset the costs of the light display. Donation boxes generally bring in about $3,000, and the sale of buttons and ornaments generate another $1,500 to $2,000 each year. Revenue is used to buy new lights, cords and displays.

Hebert said he also sends out donation letters that will generate another $10,000 annually for improvements.

He explained that the cords are routinely replaced because they become brittle in the cold weather.

For the past 20 years, Brunstad has compiled a list of active military from Chippewa County who are stationed outside the area and displayed their names on signage in Christmas Village. Brunstad purposely doesn’t put the names in alphabetical order because she wants people to take time and look at the entire list, not just look for one specific name. The first year, she had 19 names; this year, there are 126.

“Every year, we have people who missed the deadline,” Brunstad said, but added she would take names of those who have been overlooked. “I would do it for anyone who calls.”

With the park ready to go, Hebert is already lining up volunteers to help tear it down, which will begin Monday, Jan. 6. To volunteer, contact the Parks & Recreation Department at 715-723-0051.