How Candy Cane Lane Became Milwaukee’s Favorite Holiday Drive

The history of this West Allis tradition is as sweet as the peppermint candy Santa hands out to visitors each year.

The Milwaukee holiday tradition of Candy Cane Lane began, in part, with one man dressed as Santa Claus in 1986. Cliff Junck, who had always decorated his house elaborately for Christmas, decided to dress up and hand out candy canes outside his house on 95th and Manitoba streets in West Allis. Junck drew attention from passersby, some of whom wanted to give him money for the sweet treats.

A neighboring family, the Baileys, had the idea to donate all the money that was offered to the MACC Fund for childhood cancer research. Junck and his neighbors agreed, and many of the families pitched in to help efforts.

The following year, 6-year-old Jeremy Kline, who lived in the same neighborhood, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Doctors told his family that he likely wouldn’t survive to see his 18th birthday. Catalyzed by the tragic diagnosis, the neighborhood rallied around the Klines. The decorations became more elaborate, many neighbors dressing as the Clauses and elves.

Photo courtesy of Candy Cane Lane

Candy Cane Lane began to gain attention well beyond the neighborhood. Stories in local media attracted more and more visitors interested both in seeing the decorations and contributing to the cause. It began to branch out beyond the block of 95th Street. Over the following decades, a few dozen houses turned into roughly 300. Today, Candy Cane Lane takes up over 16 square blocks between 92nd and 96th streets and Oklahoma and Montana avenues,  the area replete with inflatable Santas, candy-cane-lined walkways and enough colorful lights to make Clark Griswold proud. And the Lane has raised more than $3 million for the MACC Fund. 

Despite his prognosis, Jeremy survived – not only to his 18th birthday. This year, he celebrated his 42nd.

Every holiday season, high school kids from around metro Milwaukee are enlisted to cover the trees that line the street in bright wrapping paper. And Santa still hands out candy canes to the visitors. In 2020, Candy Cane Lane broke its annual fundraising record, bringing in $207,000. “It was overwhelming,” says Ken Perkl, who lives in the neighborhood. “It’s great to see the little kids who come through each year, the joy they have putting the donations in the bucket. It’s a great cause, and it’s dear to our hearts.”  

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included inaccuracies and omissions. While the effort was catalyzed into the large holiday attraction it is today by Jeremy Kline’s brain cancer diagnosis in 1987, it began with Cliff Junck passing out candy canes and raising money – always for the MACC Fund – in 1986.

More Photos: 

Photo courtesy of Candy Cane Lane
Photo courtesy of Candy Cane Lane
Photo courtesy of Candy Cane Lane
Photo courtesy of Candy Cane Lane
Photo courtesy of Candy Cane Lane

More Local Christmas Traditions 

1. Christmas in the Ward

DEC. 2

There’s a tree lighting, live bands and choirs, fireworks, a gingerbread house, real reindeer and hot cocoa (plus, cocoa cocktails for the adults). 

2. Breakfast With Santa

DEC. 4, 10-11, 17-18

Every year, the Pfister Hotel hosts multiple breakfasts with Santa, which include a delicious meal in the luxe ballroom before the kids get a chance to sit on Santa’s lap. 

3. Christmas at the Pabst


The ornate and historic Pabst Mansion decks the halls with elaborate decorations every year, offering guided tours and visits from Santa. 


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s December issue.

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Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.