the gift of light
sherman woods holiday orbs
port huron’s historic
sherman woods neighborhood
ablaze with holiday lights.
from the editor
In September 2014 when my husband and I announced to friends that we had
purchased a home in Port Huron’s historic Sherman Woods neighborhood, the very
first question they asked was: “So will you have Christmas balls?”
Now in its fifth year, the very unofficially-official Sherman Woods Christmas Ball
Light Display is surely a highlight for anyone in the Blue Water Area looking for
fantastical Christmas light displays.
And yes, Virginia, we do participate with lighted Christmas balls.
Sherman Woods 4
Fort Gratiot Lighthouse 6
Sunrise Gardens 8
Christmas lights wrapped around a chicken
wire orb and placed in a porch pot
brighten up a Sherman Woods
Photo by Patti Samar
Our home, with its twinkling white-lighted spheres in pots (we have no trees out
front) and on bushes, is very conservative in comparison to the yards of my neighbors.
And, as a witness to all five years of this lighted display, I can assure you that there are
more lights this year than ever before.
The nightly parade of cars through our neighborhood -- and it is a parade -- begins
Thanksgiving weekend. Those who came to see the lights that weekend must return
because I’ve watched neighbors add lights every day well into December.
Since the Sherman Woods holiday light display began, I’ve seen lighted balls hanging
from trees in other neighborhoods in Port Huron and the surrounding areas. One of
my girlfriends just purchased a home in a small township neighborhood and wants
to encourage her neighbors to make lighted spheres, as well. She thinks it would be a
cool way to unite the neighborhood and spread holiday cheer.
While I know that our light display is the Sherman Woods association gift to all who
visit the neighborhood during the holiday season, the real gift comes when a simple,
festive gesture unifies a community in a positive way. It is a gift that keeps on giving.
I know this is a stretch in terms of suggesting that spheres of light are bringing peace
on earth and goodwill to all, but anything that inspires people to do something for the
pure joy of others is not a bad thing. In fact, it is the thing we need more of in our very
troubled world today. So I encourage you to create lighted orbs...or let someone else
have the coveted parking space in the crowded parking lot...or shovel your neighbor’s
sidewalk. Whatever you do, do it with joy in your heart knowing it will bring joy to
volume 1, number 3 winter 2015
Blue Water Living is published quarterly by The Write Company,
511 La Salle Blvd., Port Huron, MI 48060. Circulation 7,500.
Editor & Publisher: Patti Samar, owner, The Write Company
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winter 2015 BlueWaterLiving.net 3
sherman mcmorran woods, tower, port huron
full of lights
by Patti Samar
Five years ago when Larry Nelson
made 12 spheres out of Christmas
lights and chicken wire, he was afraid
his neighbors in Port Huron’s historic
Sherman Woods neighborhood would
not be happy with his festive display.
“Well, you know, (Sherman Woods)
can be kind of conservative,” he said
with a chuckle. But Nelson pressed on,
encouraged by his daughter, Teri, who
grew up in the neighborhood but now
resides in Greensboro, North Carolina
where lighted holiday orbs are a longtime
tradition. Teri was convinced
the spheres would be a hit in Sherman
“They’ve got thousands of them up in
old, old oak trees in Greensboro,” said
Nelson. “It’s just amazing.”
No sooner had Nelson hung his
orbs than neighbors started asking for
instructions on how to make them.
“I started with 12 balls and I’m up
4 winter 2015 BlueWaterLiving.net
to 105 now,” Nelson said of his own
It is safe to say that the neighborhood
light display in Sherman Woods
now has thousands of orbs, as well.
Neighbors begin stringing balls
and holiday lights the week before
Thanksgiving and continue enhancing
their personal displays well into
December. Every resident in Sherman
Woods is responsible for decorating his
or her own property.
Nelson noted that visiting the
neighborhood has become a holiday
tradition for many in the Blue Water
Area. “Nursing homes send their buses
through, and the police department calls
every year because people begin calling
them and they want to know when the
balls are going up.
“It’s crazy. People really do like it. It’s
beautiful and it’s just fascinating.”
sherman woods holiday orbs
• Location: North end
of Port Huron; east of
Gratiot Avenue, just
south of Lakeside
Beach. Enter on La Salle
Blvd. or Edison Blvd.
• Approximate cost per
• Lights go on: Usually
lights start appearing
the weekend prior to
Thanksgiving and are
shut off the week after
winter 2015 BlueWaterLiving.net 5
mike popelka, site manager, fort gratiot light station
mike popelka on the grounds
of the fort gratiot light station
6 winter 2015 BlueWaterLiving.net
Keeping the light station
by Patti Samar
Mike Popelka likes to keep things ship-shape.
As a Coast Guard retiree, Popelka knows a thing or
two about ship life and he’s using his knowledge of all
things nautical as the Port Huron Museum site manager
for the Fort Gratiot Light Station.
“I’m the first one there in the mornings,” he said.
“This time of year, I make sure the heat is turned up
and that everything is cleaned and dusted. I make the
cookies and the hot chocolate, too.”
Cookies and hot chocolate are easy-peasy for Popelka,
who served as a cook in the Coast Guard on both land
and sea. He was shipboard on the USCG Icebreaker
Mackinaw of Cheboygan and, in his final tour of duty,
on the USCG Bramble, which was docked in Port
A native of Wisconsin, Popelka spent 20 years in the
Coast Guard. His active duty career took him twice to
Texas, and on the second tour there he met his wife. He
was also stationed in Connecticut, Puerto Rico, Sault
Ste. Marie, Cheboygan and finally Port Huron. He
retired as a First Class Petty Officer.
Popelka noted that he especially enjoyed his time on
the Mackinaw, as it was during the 1970s when the
shipping season went year round, so there was never a
Upon his retirement from the Coast Guard, Popelka
worked in security for the Acheson Colloids company
in Port Huron for almost 20 years. It was after his
retirement from Acheson that he first began working
with the Port Huron Museum as site manager for the
USCG Bramble when the museum owned and took care
of that vessel. Upon the sale of the Bramble to a private
owner, Popelka became site manager at the Fort Gratiot
The St. Clair County Parks and Recreation
Department cares for the property at the light station so
Popelka’s duties are administrative and include cleaning
duties and making sure the 50 volunteers are kept
abreast of events and activities scheduled for each day.
The light station is open to the public for tours from
early May through December, with special holiday hours
and nighttime candlelight tours of the lighthouse in
December each year. The buildings on site are available
for rent year round to groups holding special events.
Overnight stays are available on site at the light station,
“The holiday candlelight tours are an attraction to the
local people,” said Popelka, who noted that many locals
have climbed the lighthouse during the daylight hours,
but are interested in seeing the nighttime view. “Seeing
it at night is a unique opportunity.”
Popelka’s favorite part of his job? “I think meeting the
people who come to see the lighthouse,” he said. “There
are not too many jobs in the world where you work with
the public and it’s fun.”
winter 2015 BlueWaterLiving.net 7
sunrise gardens, port huron
by Patti Samar
Jim Eldridge knows how to make stuff grow.
Eldridge, of Wadhams, is owner of Sunrise Gardens, 3605
Lapeer Road in Port Huron. A lifelong third generation farmer,
he began bunching asparagus for his grandparents on their
working farm when he was just six years old.
“They had 50 acres of just asparagus and we used to bunch it
for Kroger’s,” he said. He grew up helping his father, Richard
Eldridge, on the family farm and Jim has made his living
working in farming and produce most of his life.
Eldridge said he really began working regularly on his father’s
farm when he was 10 years old but his father wouldn’t allow
him or his siblings to drive a tractor until they were 16. “It’s too
dangerous,” he said.
His brother now operates the original family farm in Capac
and Eldridge also farms on the land there. “We are the only
potato farmers left in St. Clair County,” he said of his family
Sunrise Gardens offers three seasons worth of primarily locally
grown or locally sourced plants, produce and holiday greenery.
From April until June, he offers spring plantings at his retail
location including flower baskets, flats, Mother’s Day baskets
and Memorial Day grave pots, among other items. He reopens
8 winter 2015 BlueWaterLiving.net
the shop on Labor Day weekend each year and begins selling
potatoes, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers and corn
stalks, along with mums and fall plantings. After Halloween,
he transitions to holiday home greenery that he creates himself,
along with a selection of locally grown Christmas trees.
Eldridge spends his summer months working the land for his
fall crops. He looks forward to the fall when he opens Sunrise
Gardens and his customers return.
“I’m a people person,” he said. “I like helping people.” He
notes that his customers return, year after year, because they
understand the quality they will receive. “With the produce, if I
wouldn’t buy it, then it shouldn’t be there. I take care of it like
And because farming is a gamble, Eldridge and many in his
family have, along the way, also worked other jobs to fill in
during slow times. He has worked in produce departments at
grocery stores, for landscaping companies and in factories along
But the root of his livelihood has always involved working the
“I like being my own boss and meeting people,” he said. “But
you’ve gotta like farming to do it. It’s a lot of work. It’s a gamble.
It’s a lot of hands-on and a lot of labor.”
jim eldridge with some of the holiday greenery he
creates for customers. During the holiday season, he
offers fresh wreaths, roping, porch pots, kissing balls,
Christmas trees and grave blankets.
winter 2015 BlueWaterLiving.net 9
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