Bob Buckwalter’s enduring brilliance

By on December 20, 2017

Family and friends build his award-winning Christmas display weeks after Bob’s sudden, tragic death

Bob Buckwalter’s passion for building extraordinary Christmas light displays originated as a child on Orange Street in Lancaster about 40 years ago.

Honing his city skills learned from “Uncle Nucki,” Bob developed his own style and added to it each holiday season since buying his Ephrata Borough home at 54 Spruce St. in 1999.

“All of the family helped out each year as Bob would direct me or the kids to find this or that certain light or decoration,” Bob’s wife, Pam, noted Wednesday before accepting the Fourth Annual Jingle Bell Trolley Tour award presented to residents of the best decorated home in Ephrata.

Sadly, Bob was not around to enjoy the accolades.

Bob, only 46, and Ralph Watrous II, 44, a tow truck driver, died after a driver charged with DUI-vehicular homicide allegedly struck them Sept. 10 on Route 222 in West Earl Township.

Police reported a northbound vehicle driven by Anthony Caldwell, driving on a Virginia state learner’s permit, hit both Watrous and Buckwalter as they were standing outside the tow truck. The county coroner pronounced Bob and Ralph dead at the scene.

His death hit the family hard.

“He was the rock of the family and we felt it only fitting to put his remains in marble urn,” Pam said.

Pam, along with her and Bob’s two daughters, his brothers, parents and other family members wear necklaces containing some of his ashes.

Grandchildren Kiara and Kaiden know the necklaces mean “Pop-Pop is always with us and close to our hearts,” she said.

They also kiss and hug “Pop-Pop,” whose urn sits prominently in the living room. The children regularly talk to him, bring him trinkets, deal him in card and board games, and even include him in ‘Hot Wheel’ races.

“All the events the kids do include Pop-Pop,” Pam said,

Bob learned in July that his home made the list on the 2017 Jingle Bell Trolley Tour, sponsored by the Ephrata Alliance.

Sue Burkholder, who organizes the tour, said members scout out new properties to include on the following year’s tour.

“We had been paying attention to the Buckwalter’s home the past few years,” she said.

The family gathered Wednesday for a photo with Burkholder delivering the winning Jingle Bell Tour check of $200.

Present were Pam, daughter Samantha and her fiancée of Tim Marquette; another daughter Kayla and her husband Kyle Henry; and, of course, Kiara and Kaiden.

“We were excited for the win and that the family was able to pull together to get it done in memory of him,” Pam said Wednesday while simultaneously smiling and crying.

“Because it was something he always enjoyed as a kid and we enjoyed doing together as a couple and then later as a family.”

Pam said replicating Bob’s designs presented a challenge because “he kept his ideas all in his head and nobody knew quite what he was thinking.”

Also, the family didn’t know how Bob stored the numerous Christmas decorations that grew exponentially over the years.

“It took us a week to find Baby Jesus,” joked Samantha.

The “North Pole” design, which typically took Bob and Pam a whole weekend to setup, took a few weekends and weekdays this year. This year’s design featured snowmen, reindeer, a nativity scene, and a mechanical Santa operating a crane, which lifts and delivers gift-wrapped presents.

Pam said Bob beamed at having a chance to compete in the Jingle Bell Tour, an event where the public judges homes invited by Ephrata Alliance and sponsored by local businesses.

“Bob was so proud; he immediately began planning his design in the summer,” Pam said. “It was something he definitely wanted to be a part of.”

The family shared Bob’s pride but noted all of the credit goes to their patriarch.

“When we found out we had won,” Pam said and paused, “…it was a win for him. I think he’s smiling down from above.”

As for the $200 winning check?

“We’ll keep the display as a tribute to Bob as long as we can,” Pam said. “So that should pay part of the electricity bill.”

Who’s on 2017

Jingle Bell Trolley Tour?

The Ephrata Alliance’s fourth annual Jingle Bell Trolley Tour took place on Friday, Dec. 8, and Saturday, Dec. 9.

Riders enjoyed the Christmas lights of Ephrata while traveling by trolley and were tasked to vote for their favorite decorated home. The winner was the Buckwalter home at 54 Spruce Street.

If you would like to view the homes on the tour, the route is as follows:


#1- 1120 Lincoln Heights Ave.

#2- 1 Dutchland Ave.

#3- 69 Brookfield Dr

#4- 33 Horseshoe

#5- 35 Autumn Blaze Way

#6- 54 Spruce St.

#7- 96 Highland Ave.

#8- 34 E Main St

#9- 349 E Fulton St.

#10- 250 Tom Ave.

#11- 25 Circle Dr.

#12- 722 Pershing Ave.


“Thank you to the community for helping us to raise over $5,000,” said Sue Burkholder, the Trolley Tour Committee Chair. “This money will be put towards future Ephrata Alliance events that help to enrich our community.”

“The support of the local business owners, homeowners, and the small army we had to plan and execute the event made this event a huge success,” Burkholder said.

If you would like to join the planning committee for next year, please contact Sue Burkholder at 717-733-6123.

Patrick Burns is social media editor and a staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at or at 721-4455.


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