Park Ridge Christmas lights honor boy’s cancer fight

PARK RIDGE — Even just sparkling quietly in the daylight, the Christmas lights extravaganza that is the Grusecki house has electrified this Park Ridge neighborhood.

It's more than 200,000 lights, signs and displays at the corner of Engel Boulevard and Belle Plaine Avenue, the product of nine months of planning and preparation this family has done four years in a row—but none quite like this.

"We've combined five different songs," Tina Grusecki said. "Each song has a different meaning, not necessarily about Christmas (but) just about goodwill, being good to each other, loving each other. And of course, we're featuring Benny Martinez."

Goodwill and a good spirit are good ways to describe Benicio Martinez, a now 13-year-old boy who a year-and-a-half ago shaved his head and led his school in fundraising for St. Baldrick's and childhood cancer research. Eleven days later, Martinez was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

WGN first introduced you to Benny in July. His tumor was gone, but his recovery was sidelined by a rare side effect called radiation necrosis.

"Every day, while everybody goes on with their lives, this young man' s been battling every day," Thomas Grusecki said. "We wanted to pay tribute to him."

So "Benicio Strong" leads the Gruseckis' lights display this year, as they continue his effort to raise money for St. Baldrick's.

"I was overtaken by the lights and just seeing Benicio in the dark sky. It was just shine it was breathtaking," said Ed Martinez, Benicio's father.

A moment of awe and amazement for the Martinez family during what has been several difficult months. It was August when Benny went back into intensive care, struggling with a cycle of infections.

"Everybody’s touched by Benny," Tina said.

And the Gruseckis hope to touch countless more, paying tribute not only to Benny but to veterans.

It is a project the Gruseckis say they couldn’t do without such amazing and understanding neighbors.

The lights go on each night about 5 p.m. through Dec. 26. The family is accepting donations for St. Baldrick's at the home and online.

The house is located at 528 Engel Blvd. in Park Ridge. For more details about the display and donations, go to https://www.stbaldricks.org/fundraisers/parkridgelights and https://www.facebook.com/parkridgelights/.