By Brandei Clifton
Septemer 1, 2023
To understand Kelly Eutsler as an adult, you first have to understand her as a child – the little girl who created Christmas scenes with paper dolls on top of her toy box.
Kelly, who leads the visuals team at Silver Dollar City, remembers always having an imaginative eye that sought beauty in the details.
“I’d look at a painting of a house and try to picture what was happening through the windows,” she explains. “The mom was probably baking and the little girls were playing with dolls. I envisioned how perfect and quaint their lives must be.”
Her mind was always racing like that. The need to create was always there – that’s extra tricky when your mother has a charming Christmas village you aren’t allowed to touch.
“Gosh, that was the worst,” Kelly laughs as she recalls Christmas time as a kid. “Mom had this fancy, antique cardboard Christmas scene she’d set up. It had little ice skaters and figures she’d add each year. I spent hours just staring at it. It was magical and I wanted so badly to get my hands on it and set my own scene!”
She’d finally get the chance to be a scene-setter when she received a holiday paper snowman kit when she was seven.
“I punched out all the little characters and stood them up,” she smiles. “I took the lamp off my nightstand to give them a glow and, of course, added cotton batting for snow. I’d rush home from school to play with them. I was constantly creating and recreating it, trying to make it better – building a story. That’s where my head lived.”
From paper snowmen to a perfectly staged Barbie house later on, Kelly’s impeccable attention to detail grew as she did. She was in her late teens when she stumbled upon a creative outlet that would become a childhood dream come true.
In 1993, she was working as a server at one of Silver Dollar City’s restaurants when she heard the park was hiring help to decorate for Christmas. Billie Hampton, the creative director at the time, noticed Kelly’s experience making floral-style bows.
“The rest is history as they say,” Kelly says with her trademark laugh. “An Old Time Christmas was fairly new at the time. I remember lots of white lights and a 20-foot tree at Town Square. It was beautiful, but I had no idea how much more beautiful and elaborate it would become in the next few years.”
That’s when The City added more colorful lights throughout the park and brought in the five-story Christmas tree. Kelly says she’ll never forget the first time she saw it.
“It had just been lit and I walked out to stare at it,” she recalls with a pause. “I loved the feeling of being a small part of something that had such an impact on guests at Silver Dollar City!”
Kelly, who hates the word “crafty,” knew at that moment this was where she wanted to be and what she wanted to do. She worked several more years under her mentor Billie before leaving The City to raise her family. She returned in 2015 to take over the leadership role.
Since then, Kelly has meticulously mastered the little details that add up big for park visitors, including thousands of lit pumpkins for Harvest Festival and 6.5 million twinkling Christmas lights each November and December.
“I always ask myself what would make me feel special if I walked into a festival,” she says. “It all comes down to the itty-bitty details.”
It took a lot of “itty-bitty details” to pull off Kelly’s first big task: Creating a pumpkin festival in 2019. There are so many details that Kelly created a 32-page festival setup book for crews to follow as they place each pumpkin and light each light.
“It takes an incredible army to launch our festivals,” she explains. “We have a tremendous team who can take an idea I’ve scribbled on a napkin and turn it into a masterpiece.”
From making 300 wreaths look the same, to hand-tying 4,000 bows, Kelly knows pulling off a festival is a tall order for her team.
“I always tell them, that to be successful, you must realize the end result is worth all of the day-to-day details. When we walk down Valley Road and see those pumpkins lit or catch our first glimpse of the giant Christmas tree, that’s when we all collectively breathe a deep sigh of relief and just enjoy it with our guests. I want them to create memories worth repeating with their families. That’s how I measure success.”
When Kelly makes that stroll through the opening day of Harvest Festival this year, she’ll cruise under an all-new twinkling lantern canopy sky – another of those little details that packs an awe-inspiring punch.
“The warm and cozy feeling of this entire place is very special to me,” she says. “In my mind, Silver Dollar City is my little pretend village – it’s my little paper doll scene all grown up. Gosh, little girl Kelly would love this!”