Austin Farr doesn’t have a lot of memories of George Farr — who was affectionately known as Grampy or Uncle Georgie — but he did remember that he was “kind of tanned and had a big house and a garage and gave me a yellow ball to play with.”
The 5-year-old and a large household of family members recently helped decorate a tree in his honor for the Hospice of St. Mary’s Festival of Trees. The 13th annual fundraising event begins Saturday, Dec. 5, and runs through Friday, Dec. 11.
“First of all, you’re helping an incredible cause and you’re helping others, plus you get a fully decorated tree delivered to your home with the tree skirt, tree topper, the works,” said Mary Ann Stamm, the president of the Hospice of St. Mary’s and the event lead. “And there you go. Instant Christmas tree.”
The trees — and a few wreaths — are purchased by sponsors, some of whom will also decorate the trees, or the trees will be decorated by families or other organizations.
George Farr was in hospice care for a multitude of health issues when he died in January 2019 at the age of 67.
And on Saturday, about 20 of Farr’s family members gathered in the riverside home in Leonardtown where he grew up to decorate a tree for him. Eight-year-old Reagan Connolly of Mechanicsville selected from the assortment of white, green and red ornaments and carefully placed them on the sparkling white Christmas tree. At one point she even gave a piggyback ride to Adaline Davis to help the 5-year-old reach higher branches.
“I’ve been helping my mother [decorate] since when I was in pre-K,” said Reagan, who added she “didn’t really remember” her uncle.
“George would have loved this, definitely he would have loved this,” Amy Farr said. “He liked to be together with everyone, especially his grandkids It’s wonderful to be able to do this; that’s what family’s all about.”
Michelle Connolly, who is a member of the Festival of Trees committee, said the family decided to decorate a tree in part because of the exceptional care her uncle received while at hospice.
“I don’t think people understand the level of care they give, and if someone can’t afford that level of care they won’t turn them away, so that’s why we do these fundraisers to help the families that can’t afford that,” Connolly said. “The community needs to understand that the money raised stays here in the community and that hospice is taking care of local residents. That was my first experience with a relative in the [St. Mary’s] hospice house. If you have to be somewhere under that type of care that’s the place to be.”
Some sponsors choose to decorate their trees and if not, decorators place garlands and ornaments on the 7½-foot artificial pre-lit trees.
There are some guidelines when decorating — trees must be fluffed out and ornaments must be unbreakable and wired in place — and Stamm said she’s seen trees decorated with themes such as sports, Maryland, Chesapeake Bay, candy, aeronautics, book-based as well as winter and various color themes.
Stamm said those that are planning to decorate a tree for the festival usually plan a year in advance “because they’re on the lookout year-round for decorations.”
Bidding on the 15 or so trees, which begins around 9 a.m. on Dec. 5 and runs through about 3 p.m. on Dec. 11, usually starts at $200 and increases in increments of $25. Stamm said she’s seen some trees sell for “about $750 or $800.”
Winning bidders will receive delivery of their trees between Saturday, Dec. 12, and Monday, Dec. 14.
“Oh my goodness, [this festival has] become our second biggest fundraiser [after our walk/run in April], and it’s incredibly important, especially this year,” said Stamm, who estimated that donations were down about 38% as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. “And it’s important because it’s helping to pay for hospice house, the hospice services, the medication, everything.”
“We’re very appreciative of hospice and what it means to our family and it’s a great honor to do this,” said Amy Farr, who is George’s daughter-in-law. “It’s hard to explain how much they did for our family taking care of George and putting us at ease because we knew he was in good hands. We were happy he was there and was well taken care of.”