O Tannenbaum! BG’s community tree a festive downtown fixture (Update)

By DAVID DUPONT

BG Independent News

Usually a trip to the library is a good way to answer a question. That should be especially true when the query at hand has to do with a 50-foot tall tree on the library’s own property.

But despite Library Director Michael Penrod’s scouring his memory and reference librarian Marnie Pratt mining the archives, and my searching the newspaper archives we were stumped: When was community Christmas tree planted?

The local newspaper reported on tree lightings in 1985, and in 1986 when they reported that the tree had been recently planted.

Photo shows tree on lawn of Wood County Public Library. The picture was donated to the library by Jean Ladd.

It took a call to former Library Director Elaine McEwen to get the scoop. She knows exactly when that tree was planted. She was hired in 1987. There was a drought that year, and “the community Christmas tree died on my watch.”

Joan Gordon,  then executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, had a donor lined up who paid for new tree. (Rick Van Vorhis tells Bg Independent: “The Community tree was a donation from Isaac and Marian Loose (both deceased), the founders of Bee Gee Rental and Sales.”)

That’s when the current tree was planted in its place of honor in the square on the corner of north Main and Court streets. The previous tree had been planted to the north in the space now devoted to the Shakespeare Garden.

McEwen said that when Gordon first approached then Library Director Marian Parker about locating a community Christmas tree at the library, Parker did not want it on the square. She was afraid it would block the library’s sign.

McEwen, however, saw the advantage of the present location. And at the time there was no danger of that it would block anything – it only took two people with a stepladder to decorate it. Now it takes a bucket truck from the city to string the lights.

Planting the tree in the square “was the start of the new tradition,” she said. “It allowed many more people to come and enjoy the tree, and many more people to come and celebrate that event.”

Over time more and more elements were added to the tree lighting. Cocoa and cookies, the mayor’s arrival on a fire truck, and performances by the high school’s Madrigal Singers, both outside and inside the library.

Hosting that event is just one more way in which the library sees itself as central to the life of the community, Penrod said. The library offers a warm corridor for the festivities, restrooms and the atrium for the Madrigals concert and sing-along after the lighting.

And he loves having the tree as a focal point of downtown.

The tree is the library’s and the library had paid the bill to light it during the holidays. A couple years ago, the city ran a line from across the street to provide electricity.

Penrod said that if the tree were to fall victim to a wind storm or disease, he would be on the telephone immediately asking the city arborist to locate another tree to replace it.

The arborist Grant Jones said that he’s looked at the Colorado blue spruce “in passing.”

The species is affected by a number of diseases, but from what he’s seen the library’s tree “doesn’t seem to have a lot of disease issues.” How long it may last is “hard to say.”

But if the community tree does die during Penrod’s tenure, he’s committed to replacing it in the square and continuing a 30-year-old tradition.

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