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Pepsi Lights

Cars take a leisurely roll through the Christmas display at the Corvallis Pepsi plant last November. The display will be relocated to the Benton County Fairgrounds this year. (Jesse Skoubo | Corvallis Gazette-Times)

Pastega family moves Pepsi display to fairgrounds, seeks volunteers to help maintain it

The elaborate drive-through holiday light display begun by the late Mario Pastega at his Corvallis Pepsi bottling plant in 1981 will have a new home this Christmas: the Benton County Fairgrounds.

The free light show, with scores of cartoon and storybook characters, Nativity scenes and yuletide images, will be lit up as usual this year immediately following the community Christmas parade on the day after Thanksgiving.

But this time it will be set up inside the new livestock pavilion at the fairgrounds, where it will be protected from the elements as visitors cruise slowly through in their cars, basking in the multicolored electric glow while their favorite carols blare over the sound system.

Pastega sold his Corvallis bottling plant to PepsiCo in 2011 with the understanding that the company would continue to mount the light show every year.

But last Christmas — the first since Pastega’s death in January 2012 — company employees who volunteered their time to set up the display acknowledged they were struggling to keep the lights blinking, the paint fresh and the mechanisms functioning properly.

So Pastega’s family — sons Ken, Gary and Denny and daughter Lisa Altig — stepped in to keep the cherished Corvallis tradition alive.

“The family was looking at it and it kept getting into more disrepair, so we offered to take it off Pepsi’s hands,” Ken Pastega said Tuesday.

“Since the 1980s it’s been a Corvallis thing, and we didn’t want to let it go away. There’s generations of people who have been excited to see it go up every year.”

The Pastegas bought a truck and three trailers to store and transport the light display and made arrangements to relocate it to the county fairgrounds. The family has also pledged to pay for any materials needed to maintain the fixtures.

But they’re also hoping for some help from the community. The Pastegas are asking individuals, clubs and civic organizations to adopt characters and scenes from the display for cleaning, painting and refurbishing between holiday seasons.

There will be an opportunity to sign up on Thursday, when the family and a group of volunteers will be unloading the trailers in the fairgrounds parking lot to inventory the pieces and assess repair needs.

Several families already have come forward to adopt pieces of the display that have special meaning to them. A local Rotary Club has committed to doing the setup and take-down work each year, and another has pledged to help with mechanical repairs. And Consumers Power has agreed to cover the cost of electricity.

“It’s already started to become a community project,” Ken Pastega said.

Fair Manager Lonny Wunder said he’s looking forward to having the holiday light show at the fairgrounds. He’s hoping it will become the centerpiece of a larger seasonal operation that could include a craft fair, Christmas tree lot, food booths and other vendors.

“The (light) display would be the attraction to bring the people, and we’d look to spin off something from that,” Wunder said. “But I feel that display belongs to the community and it should always be a free display.”

Contact reporter Bennett Hall at bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9529.

 

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Reporter Bennett Hall can be contacted at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald