SARTELL, Minn. — Editor's note: This story originally aired in December of 2020. The video includes updated content.
Darwin Bonn is quick to admit that for most of his 58-year marriage, he was “a humbug.”
A humbug married to Mrs. Christmas.
“Oh, she went nuts for Christmas,” the 88-year-old says.
“October, ‘Dad, get the lights on the house,’ Darwin recalls his wife Rosie telling him.
“Yeah, yeah, we’ll do that,” Darwin would assure her. “November, ‘Dad, dad,’ she’s ragging on me.”
Now Rosie, who passed away 10 years ago, is getting her wish — and then some.
This Christmas, Darwin has lit up the exteriors of all 72 apartments at Chateau Waters in Sartell, his senior home.
“See babe, it’s done,” Darwin says looking skyward. “It took 60 years, but I finally got it done on time.”
Darwin’s white lights hang from the patio doors and balconies of every apartment in the four-story building, creating a glimmering backdrop to Sartell’s annual Country Lights Festival, a mile-long Christmas lights walk that loops around a lake behind the senior complex.
Darwin paid for the lights. Chateau Waters employees hung them.
“I’d have to believe she’s looking down and pleased,” Darwin says
The retired body shop owner has a stack of thank you cards from his neighbors.
“The beautiful lights make this place look like a royal castle,” one of them wrote.
Chateau Waters employee Lori Johannes reads the notes to Darwin, who has macular degeneration.
“I joke with him, saying, ‘She’s looking down now and saying why didn’t you do this when I was alive,” Lori says.
As much as she joshes with Darwin, Lori has not missed the significance of his gift.
"I think he had a love for her that not many people find in life,” she says.
Darwin says COVID restrictions limiting comings-and-goings at Chateau Waters sealed the deal.
“If we can make these people smile a little bit and feel like they're back in the world a little bit,” Darwin says, “I’m just so pleased.”
As she sits on her brightly lit second story balcony, Mary Torborg says mission accomplished. “I hate to pull the blind shut, because it’s so pretty,” she says.
Still, Darwin can’t look at the lights without thinking first of the high school sweetheart who would become his wife.
“I can see her eyes sparkling, those big brown eyes,” he says, casting a glance toward the lights. “I thought, gall dang it, she was hounding me all the time, now I can make up for it.”
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