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Holiday tradition hits six decades
60 years of Christmas lights for South Sioux City family

SOUTH SIOUX CITY -- Lots of people stop to marvel at the holiday lights at the South Sioux City home at 401 Fifth Ave. Some send letters of admiration, including one with a very key question: "Where in the world do you store everything?"

Jean Barnes, who owns the home with her husband, Neill, pushed the letter from a woman living in Dolliver, Iowa, across her kitchen table, as she discussed the huge lighting project that's hit its 60th year. Jean thought the display could be retired a few years ago, given her husband's poor health, but her children and grandchildren have stepped in to help.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Neill Barnes, center, poses for a photo with his family, from left, son Tony Barnes, wife Jean Barnes, and son Randy Barnes, in South Sioux City. This is the 60th year the family has had an extensive holiday lighting display at their home.

"It has been like a tradition. We have to do this, we have to keep the community happy," Jean Barnes said.

Neill and Jean Barnes moved to the home in 1958, and that first Christmas saw him hanging outdoor holiday materials. He used the former Bellas Hess retail store in Sioux City for the first item, a plastic Santa being driven by reindeer, which this year is on top of the front door awning.

Just to the north in the yard is the 2018 addition, a 7-foot-high deer lit in white lights, which eldest son Tony Barnes bought this year in Sioux Falls. Many items dangle from the front tree, which has the trunk and thickest branches encircled in lights. The front steps rising to a porch contain two snowmen, two Nutcracker soldiers, and Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Lights are seen decorated all around the Barnes family home in South Sioux City on Wednesday.

There are secular Christmas decorations, many items that have a Disney theme, plus those religious in nature. Daughter Vicky Barnes said her favorite piece is a Nativity scene on the south side of the house near the driveway. She said her kids were "very popular in school" during the holidays, when people learned they were from the Barnes family that created the distinctive display.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Christmas lights are shown Wednesday at the Barnes family home at 401 Fifth Ave. in South Sioux City.

Jean Barnes said her husband was an only child whose mother died when he was 10, and his father did little to commemorate Christmas. She said Neill, as an adult, therefore vowed to considerably show holiday spirit.

She said a merchant once described Neill buying the pieces for a lighting display: "You've never seen seen a man so excited."

The Barnes family never enters holiday lighting display contests. All seven members of the three generations live in the house.

"If it wasn't for the kids and grandkids, it wouldn't be going on. It is a good thing for family," Jean Barnes said.

In recent years, Tony Barnes, after Halloween, starts taking off work at noon to work on the display into the evening, making for dozens and dozens of hours of work. The display is usually turned on Thanksgiving evening and will be visible into January, making for a highly expensive electricity bill over those seven weeks.

"Neill always said, 'Whatever it costs, it is worth it. You are making people happy,'" Jean Barnes said.

Vicky Barnes said there have been some head-scratching thefts, including a baby Jesus that was taken. People not only drive by, some will walk around the entire corner-lot house, which doesn't bother Jean.

She cited a man who drives his wife from a nursing home in Onawa, Iowa.

"He said that's what she looks forward to every year," Jean Barnes said.

As she spoke, Jean figured out the math that 2018 marks six decades of the Fifth Avenue display. She had another numerical thought, saying, "I can't believe I'm going to be 80 this year."


Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

From left, Jean Barnes poses for a photo with her sons, Tony and Randy Barnes, in front of the Christmas decorations in South Sioux City. This is the 60th year for the expansive holiday display started by the family's patriarch, Neill Barnes.


Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Knoepfler Chevrolet employees are shown Nov. 16 at the Sioux City dealership. Knoepfler Chevrolet has donated to the Journal's Goodfellows charity. 


Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

South Dakota's Stanley Umude attempts a shot over Southern Mississippi's LaDavius Draine during a college basketball game in Vermillion, S.D. on Friday.


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Denison hires law firm for probe related to three city staff placed on leave

DENISON, Iowa -- By a 4-1 vote, the Denison City Council on Friday approved a contract with a Des Moines law firm for an investigation related to three top city employees put on administrative leave.

Mayor Jared Beymer has declined to disclose the reasons for placing City Manager Terry Crawford, City Clerk Lisa Koch and Fire Chief Cory Snowgren on leave Tuesday. He also declined to say what the law firm of Brown, Winick, Graves, Gross, Baskerville and Schoenebaum, P.L.C. will be investigating.

"Because this is a personnel investigation, not all aspects of the investigation may be made public at this time," the city said in a statement. 

The hiring of the Brown Winick firm came over the vociferous objections of Councilman John Granzen Sr., who said he was outraged at being kept in the dark about the investigation. He was the sole council member to vote against hiring the law firm, and at one point introduced a separate motion not to do so. 

"Until there's an actual crime, which I don't know -- as I've said, you've told me absolutely nothing about this," Granzen said. "I think you guys stepped over your bounds by even contacting the lawyer, because I don't see where you have the right to spend city money on something, even of that nature, without our consent." 

Granzen said he could not support the cost of hiring the Brown Winick firm. The law office quoted the city a fee of $250 an hour for the services of lawyer Benjamin R. Merrill, or $300 an hour for lawyer Ann Holden Kendell. 

Granzen

"Any council member who votes for this, you deserve to have every citizen on your doorstep, telling you you're wasting our money on an allegation," Granzen said. 

Beymer said the council could not investigate the matter properly -- and neither could the Denison Police Department nor the Crawford County Sheriff's Office.

TGallagher / Tim Gallagher, Sioux City Journal 

Beymer

"Since it's currently a personnel issue and not yet a criminal investigation we determined it wouldn't be right for a law enforcement entity to conduct the investigation," Beymer said later in an email to the Journal. 

If there is substance to these unknown allegations, which Granzen suggested first came to the surface around Thanksgiving, he said he would support pursuing them. 

"If somebody's doing something dishonest, they need to be held accountable for it," he said.

Others at the city council meeting, which lasted less than 10 minutes, said relatively little. 

Crawford

Koch

Snowgren and Koch have worked for the city since July 2010. They are paid annual salaries of $70,549 and $76,970, respectively, according to city records. Crawford has been employed by the city since July 2012 and is paid $107,000 annually. 

Denison, which has a population of about 8,300, is the county seat for Crawford County.


TGallagher / Tim Gallagher, Sioux City Journal 

Beymer