Beloved holiday tradition in Olathe is coming to an end

Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 10:18 PM CST
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OLATHE, Kan. (KCTV) - It’s the final year for a holiday inflatable display that has delighted families for decades.

The Olathe couple who turned their front yard into what’s now known as Paulie’s Penguin Playground has decided the work involved with display has become more than they can handle.

“We really love what this has become,” said Paul Craig. “But, the stress of covering everything and having to check everything every day... It’s just gotten to a point where our health is not as good and we’re both older.”

The 27-foot-tall centerpiece called Penguinzilla is a hit with the kids, but he has to come down whenever there’s wind. It takes two months to assemble and install the 200-plus inflatables. Then, there are the daily checks for rips and rapid sewing repairs. Taking it all down and storing it is yet another responsibility.

“I haven’t been to a Christmas party in 20 years. I haven’t been out for my [December] birthday dinner in 20 years,” Craig remarked.

Craig started the massive walk-through maze 20 years ago with a single penguin as a joke on his wife.

“They’re so cute,” said one child visitor Thursday night. “And, there’s so many penguins.”

“It’s amazing,” said more than one child.

That kind of reaction is what Craig will miss most.

“The laughter. The way their eyes light up. You just look them running and they just go crazy,” he said, watching them run past.

Fifteen years ago, Craig turned the ballooning front yard display at Mur-Len Road and Indian Creek Parkway into a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in honor of his late mother, who died from leukemia.

Mike Breitenbach’s family has been coming for 13 years.

“Just to come see all the happiness and the joy that’s here. It makes my kids so happy and puts a huge smile on their face,” he described.

Word that it’s the final year is tough for his 10-year-old daughter to hear.

“I’m really sad because we’ve always had a lot of fun here,” she said.

The display persisted after a storm knocked it down in 2018 and after Paul had a heart attack in 2020. So, he’s hardly a quitter. But, as they say, all good things must come to an end.

“We’re gonna miss it a lot,” Craig concluded. “But, at the same time, there’s a lot of pressure off our shoulders.”

Craig said he’s hoping to find a charitable group that can give the penguins a new home with a similar purpose next year. One day after his penguin retirement announcement, he said he’s already been contacted by two municipal governments and some private businesses expressing interest. He said he needs to mull over the suggestions. But first, he needs to get through this last season!

Craig said he’s raised $87,500 since the project’s start and hopes to get to $100,000 before packing up the penguins from their final year in his yard.