Light the Way: A Community Event 35 Years Strong

November 12, 2021

Lorraine Ewers was there for the very first Light the Way in 1987. It has always been about community, and that is the part she remembers most fondly.

Aerial image of Light the Way event“My favorite part about Light the Way, when it started, was that we were a community.”

Lorraine Ewers, administrative assistant to the dean in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS), has been at UIW since before the inception of its Light the Way celebration, which began in 1987.

That first year, faculty, staff and students prepared and strung up nearly 10,000 lights on the Broadway side of campus.

“I was part of the first group of Light the Way,” said Ewers. “The very first year, the lights were all brand new in boxes. Dr. David Jurenovich invited us to work together. We went to the CHRISTUS Heritage Room, and we were able to have pizza and fellowship, and this was definitely a community. There were not just faculty, not just staff, it was all of us. It was very community, family oriented.”

This newly-born tradition was strategically scheduled to start the weekend before Thanksgiving. The City of San Antonio traditionally celebrates the lighting of the Riverwalk the day after Thanksgiving, and Alamo Plaza turns on its lights the same day. UIW, considering that the Headwaters (the beginning of the San Antonio River) is on its campus, elected to turn its lights on the weekend before Thanksgiving, becoming the "unofficial official" start to the holiday season in San Antonio.

Ewers, however, focuses on a more traditional start to her holiday season.

“Advent is Advent. So the first Sunday of Advent is preparing for the Christmas season because Christmas is really the 25th through the Feast of the Epiphany.”

Initially, the UIW lights were enjoyed by all through the end of the year. But as Ewers said, the holiday season does not end on Jan. 1. Now, the lights stay on until Jan. 6, the Feast of the Epiphany.

One of Ewers' favorite parts about Light the Way is the liturgical meaning of the event. She fondly remembers that at the first celebration in 1987, the group started with Mass in the McDermott Convocation Center before traveling across campus, complete with people dressed as Mary and Joseph.

“There are a lot of good memories," she said. "It was a fun time. We were smaller, but we all worked together. My work studies and I would go after work. Phil Bell (then-director of special events) would bring his family and we could bring our kids to help prepare for it. Many employees brought their families, and students came, too, to work on the lights.

“When we came out to switch the lights on, there was a walk through the main campus, and as we went along, the lights went on. We ended at Brackenridge Villa and there was coffee, hot chocolate, cookies ... the important thing was that it was all of us.”

Since then, the event has evolved. The number of lights increased from 10,000 to 20,000 to 50,000. Ewers said this would not have been possible without the help of many special people, working for months to ensure campus was ready for Light the Way each year.

“A big, big contribution is the man behind the scenes that we never talked about,” said Ewers. “Back then it was grounds, housekeeping, maintenance, electrical. All of those guys that you see up there. It wasn’t about me for my photo op moment. These are the workers putting it together.”

The number of lights has now grown to "a million twinkling lights," and more than 10,000 people join the UIW community on campus to celebrate flipping the switch and illuminating campus. Light the Way has drawn people in to the UIW family.

“It has given us an identity and the community of San Antonio knows us for it,” said Ewers. “I have heard students say ‘oh yeah, my family goes to Light the Way every year, we don’t miss it’ and now they have families that are here.

“It is a way to bring people in, and they get to walk around campus and meet people, and they know that this is a good place to be. It’s a comfortable place to be. That’s an important part and it always has been. This is our gift to the City of San Antonio.”

The 35th Annual Light the Way Holiday Festival will be held on Saturday, Nov. 20 from 3 - 9:30 p.m. at the UIW Broadway campus.

Get event updates on the Light the Way Facebook event page.

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