‘Our community needs this’ — Lenexa names winners in citywide Halloween decoration contest

James (left) and Susan Leichter won Best in Show for the Lenexa Fall-O-Ween yard tour competition. Photo courtesy Susan Leichter.

Skeletons, ghosts, spooky animatronics and a haunted maze in the backyard all made the Leichter home the Best in Show for Lenexa’s Fall-O-Ween Yard Tour competition this month.

Lenexa put on the event as a way to bring the community together in a safe, physically distanced way this fall, due to the health risks of gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic. About 60 homes and businesses participated in the competition, using a variety of fall-themed and Halloween-themed decorations.

A big fan of Halloween, Susan Leichter said she was “absolutely thrilled” that she and her husband, James Leichter, won the competition — even as she battles breast cancer.

“A lot of the credit goes to my husband; he has absolutely supported me through my breast cancer journey,” she said. “This year has just been really challenging for me. I’m on the downhill slope of cancer, if there is one, the rewarding part of it where everything has been done that has torn you down so much.”

Leichter was diagnosed with breast cancer in June, 2019. After chemotherapy treatment the past several months and reconstructive surgery two weeks ago, Leichter said her doctors now see “no evidence of disease.”

As to their Halloween decorations, the Leichters estimate they’ve spent about $2,000 this year alone. Since moving to their Lenexa neighborhood about four years ago, they’ve spent about $10,000 total. They store all of their decorations in their attic and basement as well as the basement of their business and in a storage unit.

Here’s what their front yard looks like right now:

The Leichters won Best in Show. They live at 24411 W. 79th Terrace. Photo courtesy city of Lenexa.

Since learning about the competition a few weeks ago, the couple drove around the city and took inspiration from some of their fellow competitors.

“We got all kinds of ideas on how to improve ours,” she said, adding that kids from around her neighborhood — whom she calls her “grandkids” — came over to help with decorations, as well. “There was some good competition, to be honest with you, and I worked really hard on it. We have fun with it, and every year I get to add on it.”

Leichter said the friendly competition brought her community together during a particularly challenging season, with the pandemic and risks of gatherings. She said she’s thankful for city staff, especially Susanne Neely, who organized the competition and encouraged the community to participate.

“All of our community needs this right now,” Leichter said. “Our kids need something they can do. COVID-19 has gotten everybody just so scared of everything, and we’re all cooped up in the house and we don’t know what’s next. So having a little contest like this, that gives the family something to do. It gives our community something to do. I think that needs to be commended.”

Lenexa city staff created the online yard tour for residents to map out their way through the city. Families can load up their vehicles and coast through town, enjoying the sights of their neighbors’ yards, homes and businesses. Here’s the list of winners, and here’s the online map of the yard tour.