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In one Eagan neighborhood, holiday lights represent a couple's love

Cheryl and Jake, married for 54 years, are spending precious moments together before Christmas this year.

EAGAN, Minn. — Christmas is a big deal in Ann Johnson's family.

Her mom, Cheryl, always hosts the Christmas gatherings, makes the Christmas meals, and bakes the Christmas cookies, while her dad Jake helps put up the lights and decorations earlier than most others on their block. 

After 54 years of marriage, it's kind of their thing.

"It's a hallmark story. They met in seventh grade, at a dance," Ann said. "My dad really fell in love with my mom. And my mom? She played a little hard to get."

As much as they love Christmas, Cheryl and Jake don't usually put up their holiday lights before Thanksgiving.

Credit: KARE 11
Cheryl and Jake have known each other since seventh grade and have been married for 54 years.

But this year, they're breaking the rules.

"It's a new ballgame," Cheryl said. "It's a new game in town."

That's because Cheryl, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019, decided with her family last month to stop treatment.

"It has been a rough two years," Ann said. "It has really highlighted how precious every moment is."

So Jake, knowing the way to his wife's heart, got an idea.

Just in time for the holidays.

"I just said, 'Oh, what if we just had a tunnel of lights?'" Jake said. "When we got her more recent diagnosis, we just said, 'This is the thing to do.' She just loves Christmas."

Credit: Ann Johnson
Cheryl and Jake on their wedding day.

With help from their neighbors in a tight-knit Eagan subdivision, Jake enlisted Matt Golden of Urban Services -- the company that usually does their Christmas displays -- to put up lights on 49 trees in the neighborhood. It took Golden a week to complete all of the work, using more than 600 strands of lights.

The end result was nothing short of fantastic. 

Credit: KARE 11
These lights took a week to put up, but the end result was certainly worth the effort.

"The lights," Cheryl said in a brief interview from her front doorstep, "are so pretty."

Cheryl has been marveling at the lights for weeks, ever since they went up in October. 

Anything to make her smile, in Jake's mind. 

"You are a champ. She is so strong. Just incredible," Jake told Cheryl by her side. "The neighbors have just been wonderful, and they have celebrated this with us. They've been so supportive through the whole thing."

Credit: KARE 11
Jake arranged for lights to be placed on 49 trees in this neighborhood.

Steve and Karla Jay, who have lived next door to Jake and Cheryl for several years in Eagan, described the couple as "remarkable, remarkable people."

And the lights?

"It's breathtaking to drive through," Steve said. "It's the generosity of Jake. This is a wonderful tribute, to his wife, our friend. The neighborhood loves her."

And that, daughter Ann said, makes her "heart smile."

"You're looking at a love letter from my dad to my mom," Johnson said under the lights. "When mom's in pain, that's dad's kryptonite. They are an amazing partnership, and having a neighborhood like this, and having an amazing team of friends and family, has really helped them get through it."