Festival of Trees

By: Heather Beyer

The Holiday Tree Festival featured magnificent displays of decorated full-size trees, wreaths, miniature trees and countless holiday creations. It also included local entertainment surrounded by 85,000 strings of dazzling lights. All display items are now for sale and proceeds help to support patient care programs, education and research at Akron Children’s Hospital.

“The purpose of this event is to raise money for Akron Children’s Hospital Neonatal unit. Anything that the insurance doesn’t pay for is what this money goes towards,” event volunteer Dennis Paonessa said.

This year marks the 30th-annual Holiday Tree Festival. The volunteers of Akron Children’s Hospital raised over $3 million dollars from this spectacular event of trees and holiday displays at the John S. Knight center in downtown Akron.

“This event is a big deal. It kicks off the holiday season for Summit County. People are so happy. It is a happy place to be,” Patricia Roy, the Treasurer’s Table volunteer, said.

The very first Holiday Tree Festival was held Thanksgiving week, Nov. 24-28, 1982, at Quaker Square in downtown Akron.  The Festival included 70 decorated wreaths and trees and raised more than $27,000 for Akron Children’s Hospital.

The first Preview Party was held on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 1982.  Seven hundred people attended the gala and enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner as well as a first look at the beautiful display of decorated trees.

“It is a great gift to the Akron community,” Roy said.  “We have had more trees than we have ever had before.”

This year, there were over 161 trees for sale, ranging from $250-$5,000. According to decorator Jan Lonsdale, each tree has its own story or theme. Some are to celebrate in the spirit of the holiday or share a favorite hobby or passion. Some were created in the memory of a child or loved one.

Lonsdale, an event volunteer and decorator, decorated two trees. Each of her designs won awards. One tree was decorated in memory of Jess Lighter, who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“His family liked silver and white. I used those colors as inspiration for the design of the tree,” Lonsdale said. The tree was a beautiful tribute adorned with silver colors and white candles.

Another memorable tree was the “Cap and Bootie” tree.  The tree was decorated with photos of babies and children who were patients in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Akron Children’s Hospital, along with tiny blue and pink caps and booties adorning the tree. Visitors could leave a monetary gift in the booties if they choose to.

A mother of a preemie was moved by the tree.

“My children just had their third birthday. It is huge; nothing would have transpired without these people who helped. It is a scary circumstance to be in,” Deanna Pylypiak said.

Other memorable trees included “A Tech Ed Christams Tree” created by the Rootstown High School technology class, “Nightmare Before Christmas” by Roller City Rubber Girls, “Owl Be Home for Christmas” by Countryside Camp Ground and many more.

“It is Christmas here. People love it. That is all I see. It really gets you into the holiday spirit,” Paonessa said.