‘Sparkly’ spruce starts holiday season

The gift of a Christmas tree from an area church brought together city and county officials and attracted an appreciative crowd of onlookers to its official lighting Thursday.

The 35-foot tall Colorado blue spruce used in the City/County Old Fashioned Holiday Tree Lighting was donated by Loving Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church , 3909 W. Clinton Ave.

Pastor Dave Seager planted the tree with his children 21 years ago as part of a parish beautification program when it was 4 years old and 3 feet high. By the time a city of Milwaukee Department of Public Works-Forestry Division crew cut it down about two weeks ago, it had grown 32 feet more over the years and was nearing its physical peak.

"It was getting large, and we didn't want to risk disease or age taking it away from us," Seager said. "There's also another one less than 40 feet away."

The church decided to donate the tree because the city has been good to Seager and his wife.

"We love Milwaukee," Seager said. "It's been my wife's home for her whole life and mine for 35 years. It's done well by us, and we love it."

Keeping with tradition

The tree used in the City/County Old Fashioned Tree Lighting is always donated, according to Cecilia Gilbert, a spokeswoman for the city .

"It's a city-county tradition," she said. "We always select the tree from a home or residence."

Throughout the year, residents call in and nominate trees for the lighting. Usually the owners of the tree do the nominating themselves, but sometimes aldermen or neighbors make the nomination, according to Gilbert.

Once a list of the nominated trees has been compiled, the city forester inspects all the trees on the list and rates them on an informal set of criteria that includes height, fulness, color and symmetry, Gilbert said.

Although it isn't a requirement, the selected tree almost always ends up being a Colorado blue spruce.

"They're always beautiful," Gilbert said, "and they seem to hold up so well."

Lights, Christmas tree, action

Despite the cold weather, a sizable crowd gathered at Thursday's official lighting ceremony in Red Arrow Park, 920 W. Water St. , to see the tree in its holiday finery. Actors dressed as Victorian carolers from the Milwaukee Repertory Theater's production of "A Christmas Carol" and in-costume dancers from the Milwaukee Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker" joined city and county officials to preside over the lighting.

"It's a wonderful specimen," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said of the tree. "It's an amazing sight."

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker , who also attended the lighting, also had only good things to say about the statuesque tree.

"It's a perfect symbol of cooperation between city and county and a semblance of the peace and joy of this holiday season," he said.

When the tree's thousands of multicolored lights lit up just after nightfall, it was an instant hit with the crowd, especially the children.

"It's good. I like it," said 3-year-old Talbot de St. Aubin, whose father is Ed de St. Aubin, associate professor of psychology .

Daniel Myer, 3, described the tree as "sparkly" and said it was larger than the Christmas trees his family usually has at home.

The tree is scheduled to stay up until the first of the year, according to Gilbert.