30 years later, Perrysburg Presbyterian Church continues selling Christmas trees

12/7/2012
BY REBECCA CONKLIN KLEIBOEMER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Keegan Miller, 15, center, rearranges Christmas trees while working as a salesman on the lot Tuesday evening outside the Perrysburg Presbyterian Church near downtown Perrysburg.
Keegan Miller, 15, center, rearranges Christmas trees while working as a salesman on the lot Tuesday evening outside the Perrysburg Presbyterian Church near downtown Perrysburg.

For more than 30 years, Perrysburg Presbyterian Church has been selling Christmas trees from its side yard on the corner of Second and Elm streets to raise funds for its mission projects. And some folks have had the tradition of getting their tree there for just as long.

"We actually come here every year," said Jessica Kucic, of Perrysburg, as her three children ran among the fragrant firs.

Ms. Kucic remembers her family getting their Christmas tree from Perrysburg Presbyterian when she was growing up, and now she was letting her own young ones select the perfect one.

Nick, 10, Sean, 9, and Katie, 5, conferred on the two choices church member and volunteer Thomas Downs held and pointed to The One.

"Yeah, it's taller," Nick said.

As husband Tony -- who is being considered for appointment on the city's tree commission -- loaded the tree into his pickup, Ms. Kucic said Frasier firs were their favorite and that they would decorate it as a family.

Community spirit is what draws many folks to Perrysburg Presbyterian Church to get their trees. Ms. Kucic said she appreciated that their purchase went toward mission work and that the man who sold the tree was actually their family dentist.

"Always the nicest people, the most helpful," she said of the volunteers.

Those volunteers include youth from the church, many of whom will travel to Cabell-Lincoln County Work Camp south of Huntington, W. Va., a Methodist outreach program that invites teenage volunteers to stay at the camp while they assist residents in area communities with home projects.

Church member Dennis East coordinates the mission trips, which are funded by 60 percent of the Christmas tree sales. A week at the camp costs about $250 per person for food and lodging, and the Perrysburg Presbyterian sends its youth along with a group from a Worthington, Ohio, congregation in June. It also sets up a handful of scholarships for the camp each year and will sometimes purchase tools.

Mr. East said campers perform a variety of tasks, including painting, roofing, minor plumbing, and constructing porches and wheelchair ramps.

"The goal of the work camp is to make the places warm, safe, and dry," he said.

The ultimate goal is to instill the value of service to God's people, said tree sales coordinator Don Youel.

"We are teaching the youth what is the lifelong benefit of going there and giving selflessly," he said.

Adult volunteers also teach the congregation's youth how to handle the tree sale itself, from dealing with customers to arranging the trees attractively and carefully, to keep them from tipping on the sloped yard.

And then there's the chainsaw.

"Cut it straight," Mr. East told Keegan Miller as the 15-year-old gave the trunk of a customer's tree a fresh slice.

Keegan said he had put in more than a dozen hours at the tree sale, determined to be the most dedicated worker among his peers.

"I made it a competition, and no one is going to beat me," he promised.

Keegan and the rest of the crew aim to move 284 trees: Frasier and Douglas firs, balsam, and white pines from Gwinn's Tree Farm in Horton, Mich. The trees range from 6 feet to 10 feet tall and cost from $35 to $65 each. The 5-foot cleverly named "Charlie Brown" trees are sold out.

Mr. Youel said Frasie firs were the most popular for their fragrance, strong branches, and two-toned needles.

"We have a very loyal customer base," he said.

The Christmas tree sale generates about $4,400 each season, Mr. Youel said. With 60 percent of the proceeds funding the work camp trips, the remaining 40 percent goes toward mission projects such as Elm House, a subsidized housing complex the congregation manages.

"It's beyond just check-writing [to mission projects]," Mr. Youel said.

Jan Martell, the widow of Perrysburg Presbyterian's former pastor, Rev. Ron Martell, oversees all of the mission work performed by the congregation. She said Christmas tree funds were used to put up a privacy fence for Elm House residents.

Scott McIntyre pats his son Lake, 2, on the head while the pair get ready to walk their new Christmas tree home Tuesday.
Scott McIntyre pats his son Lake, 2, on the head while the pair get ready to walk their new Christmas tree home Tuesday.

Volunteers are on hand at the tree sale from 4 to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, up until a week before Christmas. After that, an "honor box" will be placed in the yard for customers to come and get trees on their own, Mr. Youel said.

He said he has never known anyone to take a tree without paying eventually, but if someone did, that person must be in dire straights to steal a Christmas tree from a church.

Trees purchased after the staffed period cost whatever the customer can pay, Mr. Youel said.

"It's just a way not to demand the last dollar," he said.

Leftovers will be recycled, and a pile of branch trimmings are available free for crafting wreaths and garland.

Congregation volunteers will deliver trees to customers upon request, but Perrysburg resident Scott McIntyre preferred to carry on his tradition of walking his tree home.

"It's just two blocks," he said.

Contact Rebecca Conklin Kleiboemer at 419-356-8786, rconklin@theblade.com, or on Twitter @RebeccaConklinK.