GREAT FALLS — For the Whisler family, living on the east end of Great Falls since 1978, a giant spruce tree has been an integral part of their lives. While they may be sad to see it cut down, they’re happy to be sending it off to a new location where it can be celebrated by the entire community.
The tree is now part of a yearly holiday tradition in Great Falls. On Thursday, it was donated for the city’s Christmas display in front of the Civic Center.
Jill Whisler and her husband are wintering in Arizona and weren’t on hand for the tree removal. But neighbors showed out in full force as crews stabilized the tree, made sure the trunk would fit in the base, and lifted and loaded it onto a flatbed for transport.
Also absent were Jill’s sons, Mark and Steve. Both men are veterans. Mark is a Colonel based in North Carolina and preparing for deployment to the Middle East. Steve is a retired Lieutenant Colonel turned Southwest Airlines pilot. He says he can’t remember a time the tree wasn't in the front yard, but is glad that others will be able to enjoy it.
“We've been downtown many, many times growing up to see the tree and drive past it when it's all lit up. So to think that somehow our small tree in front of our house is not only part of that tradition is pretty cool too to be a part of and definitely keeps you connected to where you grew up,” said Steve Whisler.
The tree also holds many memories for Mark, especially during the Christmas season.
“My dad pulled his 1972 Chevy Blazer around there and put the ladder on top of the Blazer to decorate the top of the tree with like the old school lights. The kind where you had to screw them in there, the glass bulbs,” said Mark Whisler.
While the tree is synonymous with Christmas, it was a part of the Whisler family’s life year-round.
“We used to play basketball in the front yard a lot with a lot of people,” said Mark Whisler. “And it was always like the worst trajectory for someone to miss that basketball and it would go flying off into the pine tree. You'd have to chase it in there.”
“I would not be surprised if, as they are taking the tree, if they don't find Frisbees and wiffle balls and basketballs and who knows what else, probably some Christmas lights,” said Steve Whisler.
Workers who removed the tree did find a slightly deflated basketball during the process.
Getting the tree from a residence to the Civic Center is a task coordinated by the Downtown Great Falls Association.
The DGFA says families willing to donate a tree are put on a waiting list and then the selection process begins.
“We do keep a running list and have a group of gentlemen that go out and take a look at those trees and decide which one is going to be the easiest to cut down transport and get down here as safely as possible,” said Kellie Pierce, director of the DGFA. “Oftentimes, they come from the outskirts of town or quite far away. It's not just a case of pick it up and bring it down.
The official lighting of the Christmas tree will take place at the conclusion of the Parade of Lights in front of the Civic Center in downtown Great Falls on Saturday, November 25th. The parade will begin at 6pm near Sixth Street and head down Central Avenue. Santa Claus will then light the Christmas tree in front of the Civic Center.
And on Friday, December 1, celebrate the season with the annual Christmas Stroll from 5pm until 9pm along Central Avenue. The theme for 2023 is "Cowboy Christmas." The event features food vendors, live music, arts and crafts, and more. For more information, call 406-453-6151.