Everyone enjoys the holiday lights when they drive through the center of Bainbridge this time of year. They have the many volunteers to thank, including township resident Henri Preuss along with members of the Bainbridge Civic Club and the Bainbridge Service Department.
The Bainbridge holiday lighting is one of Mr. Preuss’ favorite events. His love for the local community is evident in his involvement with the number of causes benefitting Bainbridge.
The longtime volunteer over the years has devoted time to groups such as the Bainbridge Civic Club and the Bainbridge Area Food for Friends food pantry.
Mr. Preuss and his wife Sue moved to the Kenston Lake neighborhood of the township in 1976 where they raised four adopted children and cared for 26 foster children. He also served as a Cub Scout and Boy Scout leader while Mrs. Preuss was a commissioner of the Cub Scouts.
“This is our town,” Mr. Preuss, 77, said of their involvement in the community, noting that the township holiday lighting project is a labor of love. “It’s a wonderful place to live,” he said. “When something has to be done, it gets done by people or an organization, and everyone is a winner.”
Mr. Preuss, a retired insurance adjuster who spent six years after retirement as a custodian at Kenston’s Timmons Elementary School, recently was presented with the Bainbridge Civic Club’s Distinguished Service award by club President Justin Ryan.
His longtime contribution to the township’s lighting displays has earned him the name “Captain Christmas” among civic club members. His nickname Mayor of Bainbridge came from Service Department workers responding to Mr. Preuss’ calls over the years about things that needed to be fixed around the township.
The township lighting project is a combined effort of the civic club and the township.
“It’s a wonderful thing to have a community’s members work hand in hand with the civic club to make something special for the township,” Mr. Pruess noted.
Mr. and Mrs. Pruess recently acquired some used steel-frame holiday decorations including a Santa Claus and Christmas trees from residents Bob and Linda Hamilton to be used in the holiday displays this year at Heritage Park.
The service department is cleaning and painting and rewiring them. Service department member Morgan Pandy made diagrams of each piece and color coated them for the lights. They were sand blasted and wire brushed and painted.
Mr. Preuss and the late Dennis Martin started the township lighting display and got the civic club involved. he two served alternate terms as president of the Bainbridge Civic Club.
Bainbridge Service Director James Stanek said Mr. Preuss started the lighting event and makes sure it gets done. “I want it to be perfect for him because of how much he cares and wants it for the township.”
In 1985, then Bainbridge Trustee Eleanor Mattson asked Mr. Pruess to be a township park board member. Mr. Preuss and Mr. Martin were then involved in the establishment of the township’s first park, Settlers Park off Haskins Road. Civic club members, the park board and the service department, then called the road department, worked on the park. Former Geauga County Sheriff Red Simmons allowed prisoners at the county jail to work at the park, Mr. Preuss said, adding that Auburn Fence owners helped by digging post holes for the playground.
Mr. Preuss also later contributed to the work on the playground built at Kenston Local School District’s Timmons School, and he served on the Bainbridge fireworks committee after the opening of River Road Park.
Every year the display expanded, and Mr. Preuss credited friend Bob Cindric as his first main helper with the project. Neighbor DJ Martin would officially switch on the lights every year, and “Jeff McClintock helped me in the last years,” Mr. Preuss said of putting up the decorations. “I was proud of the people who helped me, and it was the best display ever.”
Every year, a group from the Hamlet Hills retirement community in Chagrin Falls was transported in a van to see the display. Bill Dieterle, who serves as Santa Claus to needy children, brought children over in a fire truck or by horse and buggy to enjoy the lights.
“It was all for the kids, the elderly and everybody in Geauga County,” Mr. Preuss said. One year, he dressed as Santa Claus and gave out candy canes to visitors.
Families would come to take pictures of their children with the displays. “Their excitement and reaction to the lights was our reward,” Mr. Preuss said. “It was our Christmas card to the community. It was a labor of love, and it was worth every minute.
“When people thanked us, we felt good,” Mr. Preuss said. “We did it for them,” he said of the display that finally ended in 2014.
Bainbridge Trustee Lorrie Benza said her first introduction to Mr. Preuss was when he put up his holiday yard display and she took her family to see it. “The love and dedication he put in every year to the holiday display was outstanding,” Mrs. Benza said. And it was all geared to put a smile on peoples’ faces.
“Henri has a passion for the township and has been so involved, and his wife Sue is right there with him,” Mrs. Benza said.
He also works as a volunteer at the Bainbridge Food Pantry, a project of Bainbridge Area Food for Friends.
Summing it up, Mr. Preuss said, “This is a great place to live. The people in the Chagrin Valley are some of the best in the world.”