A family tradition comes to an end

Jan and Larry Coldwell by Bruce Stambaugh
Jan and Larry Coldwell of rural Killbuck, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Larry and Jan Coldwell, of rural Killbuck, Ohio, have been selling Christmas trees for 24 years. Area families were sad to learn that this year was their last.

“This decision has been harder than when I retired from teaching,” Larry said. Coldwell taught at Killbuck Elementary School until 2006.

“Growing Christmas trees was a hobby that got out of control,” Larry said. “We started selling a few, word spread, and it became an annual business.”

Larry and Jan Coldwell by Bruce Stambaugh
Larry and Jan Coldwell relax in their home near Killbuck, Ohio.
Both Larry and Jan said it would be difficult to end the business because of the relationships that have developed over the years. They have never advertised their trees for sale, yet were as busy as they wanted to be since 1987.

Larry said he began planting Scotch and White pine trees for wildlife and conservation purposes in 1981. When someone asked if those trees were for sale in December 1987, the Christmas tree selling began.

Since then, scores of people returned year after year to pick out their own tree. Of course, Larry accompanied them up the steep hillsides to help cut the tree.

“I kept a written record of who bought what species every year,” Larry said. Over time, he realized he had to expand his offerings as customers’ tastes changed.

“People were looking for more than just pines,” Larry said. With the help of his family, Larry planted several varieties of conifers, including 12 different kinds of fir.

Larry said the first two weeks of December were always the busiest for selling trees. People would even come tag their trees ahead of time in order to pick just the right tree, he explained.

“If they came the third week in December,” Larry said, “color was more important than shape, fragrance, density or needle texture.”

Friendly folks that they are, Larry and Jan both said that they would miss the annual interaction with their customers.

“I got to be a pretty good photographer,” Larry said. “People wanted a family picture with the tree they chose.” He said he recently took a family picture of four generations who had cut Christmas trees. The youngest in the photo was a toddler.

As their three children grew and left home, all the year-round work of maintaining and preparing the trees for sale at Christmas simply became too much for the couple.

Coldwells by Bruce Stambaugh
After 24 years, Larry and Jan Coldwell decided to discontinue selling Christmas trees from their tree farm.
“It’s a very labor intensive enterprise,” Larry said. “Growing trees on steep hillsides eliminated the possibility of mechanical farming.”

During the growing season, Larry fertilized, sprayed and trimmed the trees, plus he mowed between the rows. Jan pitched in with hours of weed eating.

Larry credits his late father, Loren, for his avid interest in conservation.

“Dad loved the out-of-doors,” Larry said.

Over the years, the Coldwells have received letters, cards of thanks along with pictures of customers’ trees. Some trees were even cut when no one was home, but they never had trouble with people stealing trees.

“We would find money in our mailbox, between the doors and some even brought money to school to pay for trees they had cut while we were away,” Larry said.

“It’s not the money that we will miss,” Larry said. “It’s the people.”

Larry will continue to operate his certified 113-acre tree farm and be an active board member of the Killbuck Valley Landowners Association. Jan is a nurse at Walnut Hills Nursing Home in Walnut Creek, Ohio.

Christmas is the evergreen holiday

Christmas tree cutting by Bruce Stambaugh
My wife, Neva, headed out in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a Christmas tree.

I realize an evergreen wasn’t part of the original Nativity setting. Nevertheless, having a decorated tree is a must for our family Christmas.

By tree, I mean a real, live evergreen. Nothing less will do. An artificial tree is beyond the pale of consideration.

We are fortunate to live where we have easy access to purchasing trees right from a tree farm. In fact, we most often select and cut our own.

Fortunately, my good wife has an equal inherent affection for acquiring, decorating and displaying Christmas trees. Each of our families took special efforts to secure just the right tree. Our fathers were instrumental in establishing that tradition.

Tree ornaments by Bruce StambaughMy father often piled his five children into the car on a holiday expedition to choose the perfect tree. Perhaps Dad thought if we helped select the tree and drag it back to the car, the fussing about the tree’s quality was greatly diminished if a bare spot or crooked trunk were discovered once we got it up.

The tree had to be proportionate to the space it would occupy, which was usually in the living room. It also had to be either fresh cut or a balled tree that could be planted after the holidays had concluded.

My wife and I repeated the holiday tree trek tradition with our own children. No tree was chosen without consensus. Certain anticipation, exuberance and satisfaction filled the collective process.

Since our home’s property is already sufficiently populated with evergreens and deciduous trees, we generally cut our tree. That’s what my wife and I did again this year.

Rolling hills by Bruce StambaughOn a sunny Saturday morning earlier this month, we meandered along the scenic drive across rolling hills and through pastoral valleys south into the next county. At the Christmas tree farm, high on an open, breezy ridge, where Native Americans once hunted and traversed through old growth forests, our search didn’t take long. We found the Frazier fir we wanted within minutes.

Neva held the beauty while I made quick order of the trunk with my trusty tree saw. Green person that I am, the tree gets recycled as temporary bird shelter near the feeders once the holidays are concluded.

Christmas tree by Bruce StambaughIt’s a joy to inhale the marvelous fragrance of the conifer as we set it up in front of the living room windows. The vibrant needles, deep green on top, blue green beneath, are supple and showy. The pleasing symmetry and the piney smell are additional benefits to having a live tree.

Decorating the tree is also family tradition for both my wife and I, though the process varies from year to year. We tend to trim the evergreen modestly, out of reverence for its natural beauty. No garland or tinsel can be found on our tree.

The strings of mini-white lights, symbolizing the stars in that Bethlehem night sky, are first to grace the tree. Colorful ornaments of various sizes and shapes are aesthetically hung, dangling on the tender branches. An unassuming cloth angel, older than our marriage and gifted to my wife by a student, traditionally tops the tree.

It is only fitting that we have a live Christmas tree. Like the timeless Yuletide story itself, the evergreen adds a vernal blessing to an already blessed season.
Nativity by Bruce Stambaugh

Sue Pyle just wanted to help

Sue Pyle by Bruce Stambaugh
Sue Pyle, of Strongsville, Ohio checked out some of the many items she donated to Save & Serve Thrift Shop for its Christmas Open House.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Sue Pyle wanted to downsize from her home in Strongsville, Ohio to a smaller place. That meant doing away with some of her most valuable treasures, her many Christmas tree displays.

For the past 26 years, Pyle has filled her house with the trees, each with its own separate theme. Year after year, she opened her house to many an admirer.

Pyle’s trees came in all sizes. She decorated as many as 32 trees. Some were half-trees that hung on the wall while others were miniature trees. Of course, she had a traditional Christmas tree, too.

The trees and ornaments took up a lot of storage space when not used. Though she hated to do it, Pyle knew in downsizing she had to dispense of much of her holiday decorating tradition.

Friends encouraged her to sell the decorations, some of which she had had for years. Others told her to hold a garage sale. But neither is what Pyle had in mind.

Instead, Pyle remembered what some friends had told her about the annual Christmas Open House held at Save & Serve Thrift Shop in Millersburg, Ohio. She had visited the store, learned of its mission, where the profits went, and made up her mind to donate her Christmas collection to Save & Serve, even though it was an hour away from her home.

“I know that all the money made from selling my items will go directly to help people,” Pyle said. “That’s what I wanted because I like their global mission.”

In total, all of Pyle’s seasonal decorations filled a 16-foot box truck and a van. It was probably the largest seasonally specific donation of it’s kind, according to Eric Raber, co-manager at Save & Serve.

“We once had a pick up load arrive from Chicago for the same reason,” Raber said. “But this was definitely the largest donation specifically for decorating.”

In addition to her Christmas items, Pyle also donated fall and other holiday decorations. Raber said the donations from Pyle helped make the Christmas Open House a huge success. The event was held Oct. 25-27.

“We sold 2,000 items the first day alone,” Raber said.

Curious as to how things would be displayed, Pyle visited Save & Serve the first day of the Christmas Open House sale.

“I was impressed with how they had everything displayed,” Pyle said. “They did an excellent job, and they were great to work with.”

Raber praised the seven volunteers who spent many hours organizing and creating the festive Christmas arrangements. He said many of the items were from Pyle’s donations.

“It was the eye of those who created the displays that made them so attractive and presentable for customers,” Raber said. “Those creative gifts made the open house the success that it was.”

“I really enjoyed visiting the store,” said Marilyn Howarth, a friend of Pyle’s who tagged along on the trip from the Cleveland area. “Everything was displayed so nice.”

Raber said this was the third year for the Christmas Open House, and the most successful. He said sales from the first day of the open house were the best since the opening day at Save & Serve’s South Washington Street location.

“Sue’s generosity was wonderful,” Raber said. “We value the intent of the donor.”

Raber said Save & Serve appreciates the generosity of all those who donate merchandise, as well as the generosity of time by the many volunteers who sort through the donations.

“Giving develops through relationships,” Raber said citing Pyle as an example. “It’s people connecting with people.”

Pyle, a retired elementary teacher, said she started her collections from the gifts given to her by students.

“It started with the giraffe collection,” she said. “I expanded my collections with spur-of-the-moment purchases.”

Some of her themes included a hunt tree, a kitchen tree, little books and a bear tree. She even had a Lakeside, Ohio tree, a place where she vacations annually.

Pyle’s generosity wasn’t just aimed at Save & Serve. In 2001, Pyle began creating a themed tree that she donated to the Akron Children’s Hospital’s Holiday Tree Festival. The trees are purchased with the proceeds going to the hospital.

“This year I am doing a Merry Mickey Christmas tree,” Pyle said.

Like the many shoppers at Save & Serve, whoever buys that tree will have their holidays enhanced thanks to Sue Pyle.