2009-12-03 / News

Town Christmas tree is the biggest in 29 years

By Eileen M. Daly

Removing and transporting the town Christmas tree to its place at East Ferry is no small feat, but event organizer Mark Baker says that after 29 years, the process runs like a “well-oiled machine.” Photo courtesy of Mark Baker Removing and transporting the town Christmas tree to its place at East Ferry is no small feat, but event organizer Mark Baker says that after 29 years, the process runs like a “well-oiled machine.” Photo courtesy of Mark Baker Placing the star atop the village Christmas tree has always provided a spectacular view for lucky tree-topper Mark Baker, but this year, the view is likely to be even better than ever.

“This is the biggest tree we’ve ever had,” Baker said. “It’s probably the biggest town tree in the state, bigger even than the one in Newport or even at the State House.”

The 5,000-pound, 50-foot high behemoth, given to the town by an anonymous donor, came from “somewhere off Beavertail Road,” Baker said.

The annual lighting of the village Christmas tree has been a tradition here in Jamestown for the last 29 years.

“It began informally 29 years ago when Chris Powell and Bill Munger started with a little tree,” Baker said. Over time, the trees grew in size – along with the volunteer staff and the expertise needed to get the tree into town and safely grounded, Baker said.

“In the beginning, the trees sometimes fell down and someone would have to call Bill and say, ‘Bill, the tree has blown over.’ Then he’d come down and get it back up,” he said.

Over time, Munger developed a sophisticated fastening system to insure that the tree would stay upright. “That is what has allowed us to have these really large trees,” Baker said.

Baker took on the role of coordinating the ceremony seven years ago.

“Chris Powell used to run the event. Seven years ago, he wrote a note in the Press asking if anyone wanted to take over the role of coordinator,” he said. “Three people came to his house. One dropped out right away and the other dropped out the following year, so that left me.”

Baker’s first year as coordinator was memorable, he said.

“There was a huge storm that year. Before that, the ceremony had never been cancelled. But the first year that I ran the event, I cancelled it,” he said. Fortunately, he added, things have gone a lot smoother since then.

From beginning to end, the village tree lighting ceremony is a community effort, according to Baker. It begins with a letter to the editor asking if anyone has a big tree they’d like to donate. The trees always come from Jamestown and they can be any age, but most are around 40 years old, Baker said.

“Almost all of these trees were planted as Christmas trees. They are spruce trees and spruce trees are not native to Rhode Island,” he said. “The trees can grow very, very large and are sometimes too large for the town tree because the cranes don’t have the capacity to remove and transport them.”

Once the tree has been selected, it has to be cut down and transported to East Ferry. Pete Largess of Largess Forestry cut down this year’s tree, Baker said. The tree is then transported to East Ferry using big boat trailers.

“Conanicut Marine provides the cranes, the boat trailers and the expertise. By now, it is a really well-oiled machine,” Baker said. He attributes much of that expertise to Bill Munger and the many years that he and other volunteers have put into making the yearly tree lighting ceremony a success.

“Really, everyone in the community gets involved. Karyn Kauffman puts a band together for the tree lighting ceremony and they start rehearsing at the beginning of the year. B.J. Whitehouse and the chorus have been involved forever,” he said. “The two bakeries in town, the Village Hearth and Slice of Heaven, donate pastries; the Junior Women’s Club raises funds to purchase the hot chocolate and cider. The Boy Scouts build a bonfire and help to serve the hot chocolate. There are so many volunteers involved that it’s hard to name them all.”

In order to be sure that everyone is thanked, Baker said he sends a letter to the Press after the event is over and specifically thanks everyone involved.

Costs associated with the event are defrayed by donations and by the sale of ornaments, Baker said.

“For $25, we put names on the ornaments to defray costs. Every one of the ornaments has a name. Some people put names in memory of someone, some put their children’s names, even pets. This year I had someone call who doesn’t even live here anymore. They assisted a resident here for many years and wanted to add that person’s name to an ornament. It can be a really sentimental and symbolic thing,” Baker said.

Anyone interested in purchasing an ornament may contact Mark Baker at 423-9621.

The tree lighting ceremony will be held on Saturday, Dec. 5, at 5:30 p.m. at East Ferry.

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