Lee and Patricia Sepanek have been decorating their Phoenix home with a stunning display of Christmas lights for more than three decades. But not this year … after objections from new neighbors, city officials wanted the couple to make some big changes, so the Sepaneks are taking a break.
Lee Sepanek joined Glenn on today’s show to talk about the ridiculous hoops he says officials wanted him to jump through in order to maintain his holiday traditions of lavishly decorating his home and providing cocoa for visitors.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.
ARMEND NIMANI/AFP/Getty Images
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
GLENN: I read a story a couple weeks ago about a guy who has put Christmas lights up on his home for 30 years. He’s decorated his home in Arizona. And he spends like three months decorating and getting everything — getting everything right.
Nobody has ever complained in his neighborhood. Somebody moved, and then a new family moved in. And they claimed to the city and said that, you know, the traffic is just horrible.
And so the city came in and said, “You have to stop this.” Because he was violating code because he was selling hot chocolate to try to pay for, you know, the — the work of putting the lights up, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. He said, “I’ll give it away.” They said, “You can’t even do that.” So he stopped decorating, for the first time in 30 years. His name is Lee steponic. (?) and Lee is with us now. Hello, Lee, how are you?
LEE: Good. How are you, Glenn?
GLENN: So tell me what the reaction has been in your neighborhood.
LEE: Oh, the neighborhood — once they found out what was going on, just totally upset. I still have cars driving by, just to see the dark house.
LEE: But, of course, we turned the tables on the city a little bit because we took all of my lights and we decorated ten homes on my street.
GLENN: Wow. Wow.
LEE: Wow and so other neighbors have joined in. (?) 15 houses that are now decorated. And there’s only about three that are not.
GLENN: And are one of those three the one that complained? Do you know who complained?
LEE: Yes, I know.
GLENN: And did they talk to you about it? Because I have to be honest with you, Lee. I lived in Connecticut, and there was a house on my street. And there was only one way to get to my house. (?) I loved it. I loved it. And became friends with him and everything else. He would spend three, four months putting them up and taking them down. And he loved it. And people would come from all over. I, on the other hand, was the neighbor that was just trying to get home, hated the traffic, but I lived with it. Can you understand why someone would be like, “This is ridiculous on my street?”
LEE: Well, I understood that completely. And I’ve always said for years, you know, I’ve lived in this home on this street since 1973. So basically what had happened is I’ve outlived the neighbors. Because the people that were living here when I moved in have passed away or moved away. So the ones (?) not even a year ago. I looked up the tax records and they moved in February of 2016. So the first experience they (?) caused them to complain to the city. But I’ve since learned from their immediate neighbors that they’re the type that complain about everything. They actually went so far to ask one of their neighbors to cut down a tree on their property because some of their leaves were blowing into their yard.
GLENN: Wow. Okay.
LEE: Okay. You know the kind we’re talking about?
GLENN: Yeah, I do. I’ve had those kinds of neighbors. And, you know, what solves that is if you just mysteriously find bamboo planted somewhere no one else yard. Anyway, that’s a different story.
LEE: I offered to — it was a matter of blocked driveways. I offered (?) please do not block this driveway. I was going to put that at the leading edge of everyone’s driveway up and down my street. And the city official from (?) because it’s a right of way. And I was like, but there’s no sidewalks.
So where am I impeding people’s natural flow if there’s no sidewalks in
GLENN: So what are you going to do now, lee? I’m just looking — (?), I mean, what are you paying your power bill?
LEE: My power bill run me about 1500 a year.
GLENN: I mean, it’s quite the show.
So what are you going to do? You said you’re not going to do it this year, but you said you are going to do it next year.
LEE: The way (?) cocoa being offered for donation.
So they’ve backed off on that. Due to — you know, pushback from the neighborhood, from legal. Basically, I got representation — because I have a — an individual host has been coming here for years, and his children are little. And when he found out it wasn’t going to do this anymore. He got all up in arms and contacted a whole bunch of people that he knew that came to my — to my support. And have been great about it. And our own district six councilman, as soon as he heard about this, he went to the city and started working on my behalf to get this overturned.
So as it looks right now, it looks pretty good. We’ll probably do it again next year.
GLENN: So you’re — you also started a GoFundMe page. And you started that because you were — you were taking the profits of the hot cocoa and, you know — that allowed you to do this and put the lights and buy new stuff, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And the city won’t let you do that because you don’t have a license. So now you’re trying to raise the money through GoFundMe?
LEE: That’s correct, yeah. So what I used to get — and I didn’t make that. I was selling a cup of cocoa for a dollar.
LEE: So it probably cost me 50 cents with the lid, the cup, the powder (?) it’s not like I made a lot — the show never — never made a profit. Okay?
But it helped take the sting out of the costs.
GLENN: The — I’m seeing the video. There’s a — it looks like, almost like a — I don’t know, a fair or something.
LEE: Yeah, that’s one of my decorated windows. I have six of them. That’s the reason why people stop, get out of their car, and come to — my windows rival Macy’s.
GLENN: Did you build this? Because I’m looking at this and I can’t — it looks like a legitimate fair. So did you make all of that?
LEE: No. Over the — I’ve been collecting stuff for over 40 years. And, you know, I think the window you have there, that’s the combination with the train —
LEE: That’s actually my kitchen window. And everyone has done differently. I don’t think I even sent you the one. I could send you the one — the real fair.
GLENN: Like the tee cup. The tee cup thing. (?)
LEE: Right. Right.
GLENN: Was there.
STU: I can’t even bring myself to go to the gym for 15 minutes. You’re spending nine to ten hours a day for three months. So this begins in, what? August?
LEE: September. This (?) the third week of September. Takes about two weeks to go through the lights and fix them and get them ready to go. And then we start beginning — in fact, I had the lights here. We had been working on it for two weeks when I met with the city. And I hadn’t started to decorate yet. So then after meeting with them, I decided, they were just making it too — they can’t directly tell me I cannot put up my lights. But if you take and make it difficult all the way around in every other aspect, you discourage people from doing so. And that’s what they tried to do.
GLENN: So how old a man are you, Lee.
LEE: I’m 66 years old.
GLENN: And when you say (?)
LEE: I have a gentleman who volunteers his time and helps and then my wife. So the three of us.
GLENN: Has your wife ever said, okay. Lee, enough.
LEE: Oh, yeah, that — every year.
GLENN: Okay. Yeah, right.
LEE: You have to understand, we go out every night from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, greet people, serve up cookies or cocoa. Only nights we are not out there is if it’s pouring down rain, and I’ll turn the lights (?)
GLENN: I can’t do you do it, Lee?
LEE: It’s just something I’ve been doing since I was ten years old. (?) started doing it when I was a kid. Living with my parents. And moved to Phoenix in ’73. Didn’t do it for a number of years, until my youngest was born. And we would go around looking (?) he started saying, well, we don’t have any on our house, why can’t we do it on our house? So we started doing it. And started out small. And it’s grown into what it is today.
STU: I’m fascinated about this. So September, October, November is setup. Then through November and (?) through January, you’re doing — you’re out there working it every day with the lights. And then there’s a teardown process. How long does the teardown take?
LEE: Usually a month. (?) a month and a half to take it down.
STU: I mean, that is legitimately half of your year.
STU: That’s an incredible amount of dedication. I mean, I like Christmas.
GLENN: See, I don’t think I would ever take them down, Lee.
STU: Yeah. I think you would just leave them down.
GLENN: (?) I don’t care.
LEE: Yeah. You know what, I kind of hate that. (?) you see eagle lights hanging off —
GLENN: I’m not saying it’s a good look.
STU: You just tarp the whole house. (?) put a big tarp on top of it, you move somewhere else —
GLENN: Put camouflage negative over the house.
LEE: You know, that would be great. A lot of this stuff is made out of plastic. And our son ruins that. (?) it would be no good anyway.
GLENN: Yeah. All right. Lee, best of luck to you. Do you have the address for the — Stu, do you happen to have the GoFundMe page?
STU: I do. (?) it says, help relight Christmas house is where you can go to find it. It’s a great goal. It will put you back to work, lee. I hope you’re prepared for that.
LEE: That’s okay. You know, I look forward to it every year. People don’t realize. This is a year-round thing for me. Because if I’m not putting it up or (?) I’m planning.
GLENN: God bless you. God bless your wife, lee.
LEE: Yes. I know, yeah.
GLENN: God bless you.
STU: Lee soponic is the guy who is doing the Christmas display in Phoenix. It’s GoFundMe.com. (?) I had one string of lights that I had to hang on the back porch of our house. And I put it up in like October of I guess 2015. And it came down last summer. So it was up — I kept it up through the whole year.
GLENN: Yeah, good.
STU: And it lasted until they just started (?) they physically didn’t work anymore.
GLENN: Yeah, you’re a class act all the way.
STU: That’s me.
GLENN: So I went and I got a new tree. You know, we’ve done fake trees forever. We went out and cut our trees down this year. And brought it into the house. And so had to go get lights. Yesterday, Tania comes home from Hobby Lobby. And we bought the big Christmas bulbs, that my grandparents used to have the big Christmas bulbs.
STU: Oh, I love those.
GLENN: Yeah, so she came. And they were halogen. So he so on she came — we put them up. We looked, that’s not right.
STU: They haven’t nailed the ’50s to ’80s Christmas lights?
GLENN: Well, they have. They’ve just remade them. (?) she said, but the other ones get so hot. And we were talking about it. And this is probably the wrong move. But I’m kind of willing to have the tree light on fire and just have — just have some sort of a fire extinguisher around the tree, in case it does, for the beauty of the lights. For the memories.
How did we not all burn to death?
STU: I don’t know. And, you know, people are like, oh, I got to have a natural tree. Forget it. I did it — I did it for many, many years. And then I got an artificial tree. And, you know what, never have to worry about it.
Keep that thing year round.
GLENN: No, you didn’t.
STU: Because I kept — we kept taking the tree down. And then you put it in the box or whatever. And it gets all folded up. And then you have to come up and fluff all the branches when you put it back up. And I said we have that garage. Why don’t we just put that thing up as is in the garage?
GLENN: Oh, I don’t have a problem with that. In the garage?
STU: In the garage.
GLENN: I don’t have a problem with this with that.
STU: I think it’s smart.
GLENN: Did you see it all decorated. Everything.
I asked Tim the other day, who decorated the tree? He’s like, oh, I don’t know. It was decorated four years ago. We just wrap it up in bubble wrap and put it in the back. I’m like, why aren’t I doing that at home.
STU: That’s brilliant.
GLENN: That’s exactly what should be done. You just need some sort of a place — your tree needs to be on wheels. Your tree needs to be on wheels. And probably shouldn’t be one that easily catches on fire.