MEEKER’S FAVORITE HAUNT: Willes’ Halloween display is back with a vengeance

Headhunters Haunted House is back.
After a two-year break for personal reasons, Bill and Donna Willes’ front yard on Market Street is once again a veritable collage of the creepy, the spooky and, in some cases, the hauntingly humorous.
To say the Willes enjoy Halloween would be an understatement.
“It’s a lot of work,” Donna said of the couple’s ever-expanding Halloween display, which takes up their entire front yard. “But I love it.”
The Willes have been celebrating Halloween in a big way for going on nearly 30 years.
“It started as a little display on the front porch and each year it got bigger and bigger,” Donna said.
With Halloween just a day away, Donna and Bill have been busy hauling displays out of storage and arranging them throughout their front yard. The process takes a lot of time and work.
“If my husband gets to help me, it’s a lot easier,” Donna said of Bill, who is busy during hunting season. He owns Antler Taxidermy.
Donna has been scrambling to finish up this year’s display, because she was late getting started. It takes her about a week to 10 days to get everything set up.
“Usually, by the first week of October, it’s done,” she said. “And people are driving by.”
The Willes, whose house faces Highway 13, more or less skipped the last two years. At least they didn’t put out displays to the extent they normally do.
“Two years ago, my brother died on Halloween,” Donna said. “And last year, Bill’s mom passed away one week before (Halloween). So we didn’t have our hearts in it.”
Two years ago, when Donna’s brother died, Bill carried on, but it wasn’t the same.
“I put a photo of my wife and a dedication to her in the treat bags,” Bill said. “She was there in spirit.”
But, this year, the Willes are excited again about Halloween.
“I said, ‘Bill, let’s do it again,’” Donna said. “I think it’s time. My brother has been gone two years. He would want us to do it.”
This year’s display, like past years, is not for the faint-hearted.
“It’s not a kiddy pumpkin patch,” Donna said. “If it’s not ghoulish and gory, it’s not in my yard.”
Giving people a bit of a scare is part of the fun, Donna said.
“Oh, yeah, that’s the best,” she said. “The teenagers get the most frightened. They come here so cocky, and they are the ones who get scared.”
Like the year the Willes’ son-in-law, who is 6 feet, 8 inches tall, dressed up as the grim reaper. And the time Bill dressed up in a Dracula mask and sat in his vintage Dodge Charger, which he bought in 1969.
The Willes’ Halloween display really is, though, about the kids, as they will line up to see the displays and collect their bag of treats.
“We’ve had so many people at one time the police have had to direct traffic,” Bill said. “Even the hunters say they love coming out during this time of year.”
“We make up 500 bags of treats, and we rarely give out less than 400,” Donna added. “It’s a fun night.”
To control the traffic flow, the Willes set up the displays so there is one way in and one way out.
“There’s always the concern kids would get so excited they would run out into the road,” Bill said.
“I spoke to Mike Washburn, a local police officer, to inquire about putting some cones out front, just for Halloween night after dark,” Donna said. “This would allow the children and their parents to wander about safely in front of the display without worries of traffic danger. He said he would speak to the chief and get back to me.”
The parents, just like the kids, get into the spirit of things.
“The parents enjoy it as much as the kids,” Donna said. “A lot of the parents dress up.”
The Willes have been doing this so long, they are seeing adults come through who came when they were kids.
“People who came here as kids are now bringing their kids,” Donna said.
This year, the Willes will have a giveaway. The people with the best or most creative costumes can pick a Halloween decoration out of a box, while supplies last.
The Willes make some of their own Halloween decorations, and they buy the rest.
“Some of these tombstones have my warped sense of humor on them,” Bill said. “The ‘Body Parts for Sale’ sign (Bill made) blew all the way down the highway and some hunter brought it back and said, ‘I’m sure this belongs to you.’”
The Willes are always looking to add to their Halloween collection. Like the time they drove to California to buy a life-sized electric chair with a man strapped to the chair. The Willes named him “Burnie.” The chair is operated by a remote control.
“It looks like we’re frying this guy,” Bill said. “His head starts smokin’.”
The Willes’ Halloween display is easily visible from the road, but vandalism has not been a problem.
“Regarding vandalism, we have never had a problem in all the years we have put out our display,” Donna said. “Nothing has ever been stolen or damaged.”
The Willes’ Halloween display is next to a church, but there have been no issues between the neighbors, Donna said.
“We have never been approached in a negative way by the pastor or members of the congregation in the Assembly of God church next door,” Donna said. “Many years we were very good friends with a former pastor by the name of Rayburn Cox and his family. His son Bernie, now grown with children, used to trick or treat here. Bernie is married, still resides in Meeker and would bring his own children to trick or treat.”
Word has spread about the Willes’ Halloween display, attracting people from as far away as Rangely, Grand Junction and Vernal, Utah, Bill said.
Halloween has always been one of Donna’s favorite holidays.
“It always has been, I don’t know why,” she said. “I love Christmas, too. But Halloween has always been my thing. I love it.”
The Willes’ Halloween display is sort of a free-for-fall of the freakish.
“Ever year is different,” Donna said. “There’s no rhyme or reason. No plan. However, it ends up it ends up.”
It’s a lot of work setting up the Halloween display, and then taking it down, but Donna enjoys it.
“I don’t do it for the kids,” she said. “I do it for myself. I’m the biggest kid.”