RICHARDSON - When thinking of retirement, golf, camping and relaxing are just a few things that may come time mind. However, that isn't the case for one 79-year-old Richardson man, who has taken retirement to new heights.
Joel Occhiuzzo could possibly have the happiest place on earth in his own backyard. For the last 10 years between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, Occhiuzzo has turned his backyard into a winter wonderland.
"I want to make children happy," he said. "I want to do something for kids."
Every year starting in September, he construct a North Texas version of the North Pole piece by piece.
"I pray every night that the train don't break, that I don't disappoint kids," he said. "That's the main object that the train runs."
He calls it the Holiday Express Riding Train, which is available for all kids free of charge, including children with special needs. It takes Occhiuzzo just five minutes to make the sleigh fit a wheelchair.
"That's emotional that you could get them to be that happy and enjoy it, and the smiles on their faces," he said.
Lighting up the display lights up kids' faces, but it doesn't come cheap.
Occhiuzzo has provided the Holiday Express Riding Train free of charge for the last ten years. But, much to his disappointment, he had to put up a donation box this year. It's a touchy subject.
"I don't pray for money and I don't pray for publicity, but I pray for help," he said. "I need help."
His helpers have their own special reasons for pitching in.
"Because of my own grandchildren that I love so much," said Ken Sothurd, a volunteer, of his reason. "We're lucky their happy and healthy, not all kids are."
Occhiuzzo's only hope is that the kids see what he's doing, remember it and do it for the next generation.
The Holiday Express Riding Train runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night now to New Year's night.