Woman’s giving nature lights up neighborhood

Darlene ‘Di’ DeLima has been putting up holiday display for years

Christmas lights twinkle on Darlene “Di” DeLima’s house on Haawina Street in Paia. For the past 18 years, DeLima has become known for both her annual holiday display and her kindness to neighbors. Photo courtesy of Gaynor Mantle-Ragsdale

When Darlene “Di” DeLima’s mother died a few days before Christmas 2006, no one would’ve blamed her if she decided not to string up her signature display of holiday lights. But for nearly two decades, DeLima has never gone a Christmas without putting them up; she just loves the way it makes the neighborhood kids smile.

“We always did love Christmas growing up. Every one of us,” DeLima said. “Our parents would take us around to see the Christmas lights, and now someone else can take their families riding and see the lights.”

Since moving to Skill Village in Paia 18 years ago, DeLima, the co-owner of the plumbing company R&D Mechanical, has become known for her ever-growing display of Christmas lights. And it’s not only the show she puts on every December that neighbors appreciate, but also her year-round kindness in spite of the tragedies in her own life.

Every year after Thanksgiving, DeLima gets started on a brightly lit holiday display that incorporates the spiritual and the secular, from a Nativity scene on the lawn to Santa and reindeer on the rooftop. It’s a two-week job that gets bigger every year and draws anybody who wants to help.

“The neighbors come and help put it up,” DeLima said. “My neighbors’ grandkids come over and say, ‘Can we help, aunty?’ It’s a family affair. Everybody who wants to do it.”

DeLima’s grandchildren, 11 and 9 years old, also live with her, and her older sister resides just up the road. DeLima has told her family that “even if I die on Christmas Day, please don’t stop decorating, because this is my time of the year.”

DeLima’s love of Christmas goes back to a childhood of squeezing into the car with her brother and three sisters as their parents drove them through Upcountry and Kahului to look at the decorated homes. In later years, DeLima would do the driving and her mother and aunties would exclaim in delight from the back seat.

Eleanor Lorraine DeLima, a cook at Kahului School, and David DeLima Sr., a mechanic for East Maui Irrigation, raised Darlene DeLima and her siblings in a Catholic home. Faith is a big part of DeLima’s life today and part of the reason she enjoys putting lights up every year.

“When we were growing up, we would decorate our parents’ house, and I always said if I get my own home, that I would like it to be lit up, because it lights up the kids,” DeLima said.

But, she added, “It’s not only the lights. We were brought up close to the Lord, and I believe this is his birthday that we celebrate, and I’m trying to teach the kids that it’s not all about the lights.”

For DeLima, the meaning of the holidays is much deeper after the loss of several family members over the past 20 years. In 1995 and 1996, both her oldest sister Donna and her father died from heart attacks six months apart. In 2004, 2006 and 2007, cancer claimed the lives of her younger sister Doreen, her mother and her brother David. The holiday season was also tough for the family last year after DeLima’s niece Destiny DeLima died just after Thanksgiving in a hit-and-run on Pulehu Road.

“I always ask God to give me strength and courage every day to move on with my life, because I do still have my living family,” DeLima said. “I told my daughter, ‘You know, you can mourn, but then you need to let it go. You cannot dwell on it because if you do, then all those years you have left, you’re going to lose a lot of time with (the family you have left).'”

Neighbors know DeLima has been through a lot, and still they’ve seen her continue to put up the lights. Gaynor Mantle-Ragsdale has lived across from DeLima’s Haawina Street residence for 10 years. She said when December comes around, DeLima’s home “stands out above all others,” but throughout the year she’s always helping people “behind the scenes.”

“Everyone loves Di, as she takes care of all the kids, family and friends alike,” Mantle-Ragsdale said. “She also goes up and down the street weed-eating everyone’s yard and checks on the older people.”

Roxanne Dickson has lived next door to DeLima for 17 years. Her four boys, now ages 21, 18, 13 and 10, go over to DeLima’s house every year to help with the lights.

“It’s a tradition,” Dickson said. “Everybody comes and drives past and looks at all the lights. And they love it.”

Dickson said everyone knows and loves DeLima, especially the kids. She’s the kind of person who will bring soup to someone who’s sick and do “whatever she can to help.”

“And she’s always been that way,” Dickson said. “We are lucky to have her in our lives.”

Even during the holidays when DeLima is struggling with the loss of family members, she never once considered skipping out on the tradition.

“It’s hard. Believe me,” DeLima said. “But I know and I believe that someday we will all be together again. And I hope I can look down and have all my decorations in my yard.”

• Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.