Trimmers Holiday Décor founder Bill Kilgus teamed up with artist Audrey Heffner to decorate a 40-foot tree with 300 strands of pink lights and three oversized pink ribbons to create the Breast Cancer Awareness Tree on Third Street South in downtown Naples.
And this time, his light is helping shine awareness on breast cancer.
For more than 20 years, Kilgus, founder of Trimmers Holiday Décor, and his design team have played the role of Santa Claus — decorating Southwest Florida developments, clubhouses and businesses to welcome the holiday season.
Projects have included charitable donations to local fire stations, the Make A Wish Foundation and area residents affected by serious illnesses.
“It feels good,” Kilgus said, describing community service as a “relief” to his demanding work schedule.
“We are so busy (during the holidays), it is crazy,’’ he said. “But you get to see the smiles on faces, and that’s what makes it worth it.”
It is Kilgus’ most recent contribution that has had the most profound and personal effect on his career.
After recently losing his sister to pancreatic cancer, his Breast Cancer Awareness Tree on Third Street South in downtown Naples serves as a reminder of the disease’s presence.
“It is an absolute sin,” he said. “Cancer is nasty. I don’t want anybody to lose a sister or a mother.”
The 40-foot tree, adorned with 300 strands of pink lights, took a full day to complete.
Local artist Audrey Heffner created its oversized and custom-designed pink ribbons.
“We wanted to go over the top with it,” Heffner said. “It was a lot of fun to do.”
While the process of creating the tree in a limited amount of time proved to be stressful, the result has stopped bystanders in their footsteps.
Old Naples resident Liza Carini recalled the first time she saw the tree.
“It’s a good memory for those who have beaten the disease,” she said. “It’s also a good reminder for others.”
Because the tree reminds and encourages women to undergo frequent testing, Kilgus said he thinks his goal of raising awareness has been accomplished.
Early detection, he said, is the key to preventing unnecessary deaths.
According to recent statistics from the American Cancer Society, 61 percent of breast cancers are diagnosed at a localized stage, for which the five-year survival rate is 98 percent.
Lori Bassano, the sponsorship chairwoman for Naples’ Cancer Society chapter, also encourages residents to treat the tree as a call to action.
“Any sign that will remind women to get tested is essential,” she said. “Whether it’s a small ribbon on someone’s lapel or this big artistic piece, anything has the potential to save a life.”
Kilgus also hopes his project will inspire local organizations to join in on the effort.
With October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month coming to an end this week, Kilgus already is setting his sights on the future.
He hopes to see the tree become a Naples tradition, which he said can only get “bigger and better.”
For now, he will keep his sister’s memory close to his heart and continue to give back to the area that has given him success.
“We love helping out the community,” he said. “If we can help in any way, we’ll do it.”
Locals and tourists can enjoy the Breast Cancer Awareness Tree for the remainder of October.
In November, the tree’s decorations will transition into the holiday décor for which Kilgus is known.