Lighting Kings Highway is a Christmas tradition

NeighborhoodÂ’s luminaria project raises money for domestic abuse prevention

Mickey O'Kane, left, and Kathryn Ringham organize an annual luminaria project that has raised nearly $10,000 for a domestic abuse nonprofit. Credit: Dylan Thomas

EAST HARRIET — Shortly after the sun sets on Christmas Eve, four blocks of Dupont Avenue South will begin to glow.

It’s an annual tradition for residents on the southern end of Kings Highway, where Dupont widens and is divided by a tree-lined median, to light their street with luminaria each year around the holidays. Begun in 1999 as a way to mark the end of the millennium, the Dupont luminaries have since become a fundraiser for the Domestic Abuse Project, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit.

Neighbors Mickey O’Kane and Kathryn Ringham coordinate the annual effort, now in its 15th year, meeting at O’Kane’s house in mid-December to divide 1,000 paper bags and candles among the 80 homes between 42nd and 46th streets, including the one shared by Mayor R.T. Rybak and his wife, Megan O’Hara.

“We call this ‘the loaves and the fishes,’” O’Kane said, because as many years as the pair have been at it, they always seem to end up with extra supplies.

With the help of block captains, those bags and candles are distributed among the homes — between 12 and 20 each, depending on the size of each lot. By nightfall on the 24th, lit luminaria line both sides of the Kings Highway median.

“There’s something about it,” O’Kane said. “I remember that first year coming home from work.”

Neighbors walk up and down the block, socialize and sing carols. If it’s a white Christmas, there will be children playing in the snowbanks. Cars with their headlights turned off cruise slowly down the block, and passengers sometimes roll down the window to say thank you.

It was Ringham who pitched the luminaria idea to O’Kane back in ’99, and that year there were three nights of lights: on the first night of Hanukkah, then Christmas and finally on New Year’s Eve. That first year, she recalled, was “way off the charts.”

“That was a lot of candles,” O’Kane agreed. “And we only asked $5 that year.”

Now each house contributes $15 to supplies, and since 2003 they’ve given an equal amount for the Domestic Abuse Project. The nonprofit, headquartered in the Stevens Square neighborhood, works with both victims and perpetrators to end domestic violence.

It was about a decade ago that O’Kane accepted a neighbor’s invitation to the Transforming Families Luncheon, an annual fundraiser for the organization held each October. She’s since joined the board of directors.

“It just touched me because they deal not just with the women and the children, but they deal with the men,” she said.

Domestic Abuse Project Executive Director Carol Arthur said total donations raised through the Dupont luminaria project since 2003 are on track to top $10,000 this year. That money supports the organization’s work, which includes providing therapy services and advocating for victims.

This year, it launched a new program to work specifically with military veterans referred to the organization through Hennepin County Veterans Court, one of just a few such programs in the country, Arthur said.

Now, it’s O’Kane who’s inviting neighbors to the luncheon. A neighbor across the street now serves on the Domestic Abuse Project board with her.

“This is an incredible four blocks, here,” she said. “It’s really special.”