Lehi Historical Society and Archives: Willes couple commended for years of holiday light displays
Editor’s Note: The Lehi Historical Society and Archives is proud to present the stories of its Lehi Heritage Day 2022 honorees. The story of Mike and June Willes is the eighth of nine articles featuring this year’s honorees. Each couple will be celebrated at Lehi Heritage Day on Sept. 5, beginning at 2:30 p.m., in a parade, a celebration with the mayor, city council and public and a meet-and-greet. The free, city-sponsored event celebrates those who have given tremendous service to Lehi and honors Lehi’s remarkable history. This year’s theme is “100 Years of Beautiful Lehi Homes.” For more information on Lehi Heritage Day or the Classic Car and Bike Show, see lehihistory.com.
Upon retirement in 2010, Mike and June Willes started traveling and off-road riding. Along the way to far-off sites, they saw yards with holiday decorations and were inspired to make and display their own creations. Soon, paintings and lights adorned their home with after-holiday sales boosting their store of yard decor. Word spread, their displays grew, and their notoriety for free, wholesome entertainment exploded in no time.
Last year, more than 700 cars visited the Christmas display at their home at 250 E. 700 South. But the fun does not stop there. Although their Christmas display is their most extensive, the Willes decorate for all major holidays, making their home Lehi’s premiere location for holiday lights and joy.
They were featured on KSL News and invited to be on “The Great Christmas Light Fight.” However, their 2020 filming was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Born and raised in Lehi, Mike is the second of five children born to Dean Smith and Leatrice May Wagstaff Willes. Also, the grandson of Stephen Arthur Willes, a local dairyman, farmer and sheriff of Lehi, Mike was expected to hurry home from school to do chores on the family farm. He graduated from Lehi High School in 1969.
Mike has lived the bulk of his 71 years in the Lehi First Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, leaving only to serve a two-year mission in Pennsylvania. When he returned, he married Lehi girl Janet Kay Whimpey. They have five children:Darbie, Chris, Travis, Steven and Alex. They built the home where the couple lives today and creates their light displays.
Mike provided for his family by working as a carpenter for Layton Construction. He was Layton’s “go-to” person to solve difficult problems. Early in his career, he participated in building BYU’s iconic Cougar Stadium Towers, which provided his first experience with a slip-form pour.
In 1983, when Utah experienced widespread flooding, Layton Construction was awarded the contract to build a pumping system to disperse large amounts of water onto the WestDesert. Mike designed the header, which started as a square and transformed into an ellipse in one solid concrete piece. Though not yet used, it still stands ready. He also worked on projects, including Primary Children’s Hospital, the U of U, Cougar Stadium and the LDS Jordan River Temple.
Born in Roosevelt, Lana “June” was the second child of Arthur Owen Mitchell and LeVara Mae Halverson. She, too, grew up on farms learning to work and play with her four siblings. She graduated from Bingham High School in 1966. June’s family was musically inclined, and June’s instrument of choice was the violin. She participated in school orchestras, LDS stake musicals and the BYU Summer Music Clinic.
In 1993, Mike and June met at an LDS Church dance, which began a whirlwind of dates that led to marriage six weeks later. Together, they finished raising Mike’s five childrenwhile June’s daughter was already grown. Today, the family includes six in-laws, 17 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
The couple enjoys off-road exploring. Over the years, they’ve moved from four-wheelers to a side-by-side to a Jeep. Mike’s love of Moab has taken them there numerous times. They even have a picture on their headstone of their side-by-side at Metal Masher with the caption, “It’s been a HELLUVA RIDE.” In 2018, Mike fulfilled his dream of guiding for Rally on the Rocks.
Mike and June love sharing their talents and holiday joy.Everyone is invited to their light displays at 250 E. 700 South. They even promise to leave the lights on for you!