- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
It’s been 25 good years for the Festival of Trees, but all good things must come to an end.
The final festival, a fundraiser for the Hospice of Charles County, will be Friday through Sunday at the Jaycees center in Waldorf.
“Every event runs its course,” said Leigh Ann Keller, a member of the Society for the Friends of Hospice and committee chairwoman for the event. “Twenty-five years is a pretty good run.”
To celebrate its landmark year, the organization played off the silver anniversary theme, dubbing this year’s festival “Silver Traditions: Celebrating 25 Years of Memories.”
Organizations, families, businesses and individuals decorate trees and wreaths using the theme as inspiration.
Sherry’s Angels, the family of the late Sherry Hall who died at home in 2010 of kidney cancer under hospice care, decorated a 4 1/2-foot tree with silver glitter-framed black and white photographs that were culled from websites and history books. The photos depict Charles County in the past. The “You Should Have Seen It in Color” tree celebrates the county’s roots in oystering and tobacco farming.
The project came together “with hot glue and patience,” said Margaret Rollins, Hall’s mother, who oversaw Hall’s family members Debbie Carroll, Pam Butler, Shannon Durst, Lisa Swick and Gracie Butler.
The Charles County Garden Club’s “Winter Elegant Celebration” uses ornaments discovered in the attic of Christ Church, La Plata. The ornaments, beauties from Nordstorms, were donated to the church by late garden club member Anne Jameson Weaver. When the church couldn’t use them, the club decided to put them to use for a good cause.
Club members Judy Mudd, Peggy Schaumburg and Betsy Parbouni placed the final touches on the tree during Sunday’s decorating blitz at the Jaycees center. The event is one the club participates in each year.
In the past, the club has used dried flowers clipped from members’ gardens. One year, members used small hand-painted artwork to decorate its offering.
“We go way back,” with the hospice, Mudd said. She remembers volunteering for the hospice when it was just starting out.
“We had a teeny-weeny, little office on La Grange Avenue,” in La Plata, Mudd recalled. “And one paid nurse. We would throw money in a cup to pay for postage.”
The memories of the early days of the hospice and the Festival of Trees are thick this year as organizers and volunteers remember the birth of the fundraiser.
In 1988, Joan Dent was on the hospice’s auxiliary board, which raised money for the organization as now does the Friends of Hospice. She attended a festival of trees in Easton and was wowed by the experience.
“As soon as I walked in, I loved it,” she said. “It was beautiful.”
If she was going to bring a similar event to Charles County, she insisted on having a co-chairwoman to shoulder the burden. Jean Schappet stepped up, and the two started to work.
“You’re only as good as your committee members,” Dent said.
The first year, the three-day event was held at the Holiday Inn (now the Clarion Inn) in Waldorf and raised $36,000.
“It was the first time anyone had ever seen anything quite so elegant in Charles County,” Dent said.
The trees were presold to organizations and families around the area and delivered to destinations by beer trucks, organized by Gary Simpson.
“That was a sight,” recalled Dent, adding that prior to moving the festival to the Jaycees center, volunteers worked in the cold to place lights on the trees.
The following year, the event was lengthened to four days and brought in $64,000, and a fashion show was staged.
Dent insisted that even volunteers contribute $3; she tried to get everything at cost so that the event was pure fundraiser.
She remembered a bidding war over a silent auction tree that went for $1,501. In the Holiday Inn years, decorators only had a couple of hours to put together a tree before the doors opened. There was a mad rush to clean up and be ready for the public.
Bonnie Baldus Grier, a member of the Friends for Hospice, estimated that she has been decorating trees of the event for about 23 years. Back in the heyday of the festival, there would be a thousand people coming in off the street to see the trees. Back then, the festival and Civista’s Mardi Gras ball were the only huge fundraisers in town. Now, nonprofit organizations abound, and in tight economic times, there is less and less money to go around. Friends of Hospice also runs other fundraisers during the year: an Easter egg roll, a Preakness event and a two-day Oktoberfest. The board will brainstorm ideas for a possible new fundraiser, Keller said.
This year, the Festival of Trees is going out on a high note, Grier said.
“It’s bigger this year than last year,” she said.
It’s one last opportunity for community members to see an event known for its beauty, Grier added.
“I’m so happy that the leadership has continued [the festival],” Dent said. “It’s wonderful that it’s lasted for 25 years. It’s unique and quite beautiful. And it’s inspiring.”