Who Will Light the Village of Rochester Hills?

You told us many inspiring stories, Patch readers. Here's who will flip the switch.

The Spehn family of Rochester will help Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett flip the switch Friday night on 850,000 lights at the Village of Rochester Hills.

Gina and Michael Spehn and their children, Charlotte, Jack, Drew, Sam and Dan, were among more than two dozen nominees offered up by Rochester Patch readers for the honor. 

The Spehns are the authors of the bestselling book, The Color of Rain, which tells the story of the loss of Michael's first wife, Cathy, and Gina's first husband, Matt, to cancer. The story chronicles Michael and Gina meeting and helping each other through their grief; it goes on to tell the story of their eventual marriage and blending of their two families.

The Spehns created the New Day Foundation for Families to support other young families facing cancer.


Tiffany Patzer of Rochester will help the Spehns flip the switch. Patzer, whose family manages the Talbert and Leota Abrams Foundation, was recently so inspired by the Spehns' story that she donated $12,000 to their cause. 


Patch reader Sandy Altherr nominated the families. "Their stories are so fantastic, they inspire me. They are the epitome of what the holiday season is all about ... love, faith, helping those in need, giving selflessly from your heart."

The lights go on Friday night in a ceremony at The Village. A parade, music and, of course, Santa, are other highlights of the event. Read the complete details here.

A committee representing Patch, the city of Rochester Hills and the Village of Rochester Hills chose the Spehns and Patzer from the pool of inspiring nominees. 

The nominees included the youngest resident, the "oldest able resident," a student with perfect attendance and even Justin Bieber. Several readers nominated the family of Kyle McClain, the soldier killed in Afghanistan. Danielle Ziaja, founder of the "Clean Start Service Project," was also nominated. Alan Roberts nominated Alex Eshelman, a 4-year-old with leukemia. 

Other nominees included:

  • Katie O'Bezil nominated Rochester Pride. "We are a peer to peer drug, alcohol, and violence prevention group. We feel like this would be a chance to show kids that it can be cool to stay drug free and to live a healthy lifestyle."
  • George Rochette nominated his wife, Sandy. "She loves Christmas lights and Christmas more than anyone on the face of the earth! She truly is the spirit of Christmas."
  • Michelle Heinrich nominated her husband and three kids. Heinrich said she is deploying to Afghanistan on Dec. 6.  "I would like them to flip the switch as this will be our first Christmas apart. I would like them to have a memorable holiday season even though i will not be here . They all enjoy Christmas and i know this is something they would never forget."
  • Stacy Prachar nominated herself and her 4-year-old daughter. Her stepmom and best friend died of cancer this year. "We have attended this village lighting together for the past 2 years with her and this year will be especially hard for me.  I am trying to keep the Christmas spirit for my daughter's sake and make sure that my daughter remembers her, but it is difficult."

Read a full list of nominations here.



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