Annual Holiday Tree Festival lights up city

By Alicia Finch

The halls were decked and the trees were shining bright in Akron at the John S. Knight Center, where people of all ages embraced the holiday spirit by joining in the 32nd annual Holiday Tree Festival.


The uniquely decorated tree donated by The University of Akron’s Society of Women Engineers caught the attention of one certain individual, Lori Day. Day purchased the tree Saturday, leaving the tripod empty where the donors and decorators were to receive recognition for their hard work.

Development Program Supervisor at UA Jeanne Semilia, daughter and UA student Andrea Semilia and soon-to-be UA student Maddy Rock commented on the fact that they were a bit upset Akron did not have a tree displayed and Kent State University did.

Anyone who attended the event Saturday was not aware of the university’s tree because there was no plaque crediting it. After the Semilias and Rock were aware the university had a tree and it sold, Andrea Semilia said, “Better we had a tree that sold.”

The tripod was empty for a few hours while the plaque crediting Day was being printed. The plaque was then put back up for display. The proceeds of all the trees sold are donated to Akron Children’s Hospital.

“It’s one of the highest compliments you can have, donating a tree and it being bought before the last day when the trees get marked down. I know The University of Akron’s was purchased before I came in Saturday afternoon,” Becky Considine, a volunteer for 32 years, said.

This year’s tree, called “Geome-Tree,” was decorated with ornaments directly out of scrapbook paper into geometric shapes. The tree also included different colored bows, rulers, protractors, holiday-colored glass ornaments and, to top it all off, a bright red, attention-grabbing star. The men and women who make up the group of Akron students have lent a helping hand in decorating and donating trees to be sold at the event for over a decade.

The empty space between the bottom of the tree to the floor was filled with a pile of children’s toys wrapped as Christmas presents for the buyer, Day. Most of the toys pertained in some way to mathematics. Toys that include shapes, a Rubik’s cube, books and other fun-filled toys for children to learn from were included.

With over 100 trees located on the second floor, many other uniquely-decorated trees brought people out with a specific agenda.

Nela Lucey of Manchester brought her four children out specifically to see the LeBron James tree.

“This is our first year and we are excited to see the LeBron James tree. It is one of the reasons why we came,” said Lucey.


The LeBron James tree, titled “Promises Kept,” was made of 60 pairs of Air Jordan tennis shoes and a basketball signed by James himself. Around the different tiers of shoes was a message that read, “A promise to never forget where I came from.”

“I’m here because a girl in my son’s group did a tree. My son passed away, so she is doing a tree for [him],” Jennifer Swangim of Cuyahoga Falls said.

The “We Love Bubbles” tree was in memory of Drew Howell, a little boy who was born at 28 weeks and spent the first nine weeks of his life in the Akron Children’s NICU. Howell had been diagnosed as autistic. He survived his fight for life, but passed away from different causes earlier this year.

With his favorite cartoon being “The Bubble Guppies,” donor Kelly Howell and decorators Kim Schwiegershausen and Debbie Crain honored him in decorating the tree in bubbles. Laurie and Joe Waligorski purchased the tree.

There were many other specially decorated trees like METRO’s “Tying One On” recycled holiday tree made with 522 recycled ties and topped off with a top hat; Santa stuck in the chimney; and the Grinch with his faithful sidekicks Cindy Lou Who and his dog. “Candy Land” was a sweet success, sitting on a huge peppermint. Tied all over the tree were gold bows and assortments of small candies. “Owl Be Home For Christmas” was made of all duct tape featuring owls.

“This is my second year and I think it’s beautiful. I wish we had more lighting to see the details of the trees better, but it’s so nice to see how well supported this all is with donors and buyers,” Judy Rogers of Akron said.

Many people traveled to not only purchase or view the extraordinary trees but also for a chance to win a raffle drawing of an entire room. Tickets for the drawing were $1 for one ticket or $5 for six tickets.

These rooms included “Christmas in the City,” “Home for the Holidays,” “It’s a Lalaloopsy Holiday” from Little Tikes, “Will Honor Christmas in my Heart” and “The Mickey Mouse and Friends Train.”

“It’s been a remarkable year with all the donations and unique trees. It’s all [for] good,” Bill Considine, president and CEO of Akron Children’s Hospital said.

On the bottom floor, Santa and Mrs. Claus sat with welcoming arms to children and families. Santa took many pictures with families and children while letting the children tell him what they wanted for Christmas. The children all left with smiles on their faces.