Tree lighting fills historic hotel |

Tree lighting fills historic hotel

John Gardner
Kara K. Pearson/Post Independent Nardos Andarchew, right, helps Susan Howard, center, string lights onto a Christmas at the Hotel Colorado as Mihiret Negiya, left, works on decorating another tree. Volunteers from the mountains and the Front Range helped ready the hotel for its annual lighting ceremony, which took place Friday.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – In the early years, the Hotel Colorado would close its doors during the winter and wouldn’t open them again until the warm breeze of spring thawed the valley.But those were the old days.Now, winter is one of the most celebrated times at the historic hotel thanks in part to partners Kerry Koepping and Janet Koelling of Creative Dimensions in Denver. For the past 14 years, the hotel has held the annual Holiday Lighting Ceremony the day after Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday season.”It’s a big community event,” Koepping said.Last year Koepping estimated that 5,400 people attended to watch the flipping of the switch. That’s a pretty big turnout considering the first year there was no crowd at all.”It’s really grown into an international-sized event,” Koepping said. “We’ve had volunteers from all over the state and as far away as Canada to help with decorating.”

“It’s doubled in size,” said Larry McDonald, general manager of the Hotel Colorado. “This year it’s evolved even bigger than ever before.”Providence Hospitality Partners, LLC manages the hotel. In 1992 Koepping and Koelling were hired to do the marketing. That’s when the two fell in love with Glenwood Springs and the Hotel Colorado. “We work for hotels all over the country,” Koelling said. “But this hotel and the event is our labor of love.”The two wanted to do a lighting ceremony after visiting the Grove Park Inn in Ashville, N. C., one year during the holidays. But, they wanted theirs to be bigger and more elegant. All they needed was the right hotel.When Koelling and Koepping started working for the hotel, Koelling heard a story about the Hotel Colorado during World War II. Apparently, the hotel was a recovery unit for injured soldiers who’d just returned to the states. The story goes that one of the nurses working at the hotel decorated the building with lights and ornaments one holiday season, because she became “taken by the spirit.”That same spirit fueled the two’s inspiration.”We wanted to recreate what she had done long before,” Koelling said.The first year of the event Koelling and Koepping started work for the Hotel Colorado in February. That December they were decorating the place for Christmas. Each year more and more people from the community come to help with the decorations, some of them have been helping out for eight or nine years. And that’s what it’s all about for Koepping and Koelling.”It’s all a volunteer effort,” Koelling said. “And it’s the spirit of giving. The hotel wanted to give something back to the community and the community likes to give to this project.”Each passing year the crowds have grown at the hotel. It’s become so big that Koelling and Koepping haven’t been able to see the lighting ceremony for the last four years because the hotel has been booked full.”The lighting isn’t important for us,” Koelling said. “For us the decorating is what we enjoy. The lighting ceremony is for the people to enjoy.”For McDonald, the lighting ceremony is the best event of the year. “It’s so emotional and such a great experience,” he said. “When the lights finally go on and you see what’s been done, you want to go back and do it all over again.”Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO

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