Main Event: Decorated trees help build and maintain Homes

Diane Gatzlaff, left, Debbie Witte and Lisa St. Peter have made tree design a collaborative effort for nine years. The trio said they're always looking for new ideas.

It was a merry evening for guests of the 29th annual Festival of TreesOpening Night Gala, a benefit for Hiawatha Homes, Nov. 25 at Mayo Civic Center.

Gross proceeds provide grants to Hiawatha Homes, Inc., to build and maintain homes, expand support programs, and invest in Hiawatha's future.

The evening began with a preview party for underwriters, including a tree selection process in which guests ran to choose their favorite trees. Afterwards, attendees dined among the trees, sipped a signature cocktail created for the gala, and bid on items in silent and live auction.

This year, there were 101 trees, each designed by a local organization, business, or individual, who donated the time to shop for and decorate their tree.

"We're very fortunate and blessed with the community support," said Crystal Landherr, events and communications specialist for Hiawatha Homes.


"For many people, this is the official kickoff of the Christmas Season, said board member Peg Lloyd. "For Hiawatha Homes, this is huge — a time to get the community involved in reaffirming our mission."

Lloyd said that each year people call to ask how they can help at the festival.

"This year, we have more than 1000 volunteers helping throughout the week. Rochester is such a giving community," she added.

"It's just a fun night, this is my third year coming to the festival," said attendee Audrey Norte."It's wonderful, so pretty."

"Seeing this makes me want to decorate my home," added Norte's friend Helen Distad.

'I come every year," said Laurie Keith,who attended with her friend Sherry Theil."It's a great way to start the season."

Theil added, "The ideas are overwhelming. I'd love to have a themed tree."

Guests at Festival of Trees had the opportunity to shop for wreaths, ornaments, dolls, and more in the Gift Thyme shop.


Shirley Wruble, making her selections, said, "I've been coming here for quite a few years. I come to shop, to get unusual gifts for family and friends. I wouldn't miss it."

Sisters Jennifer McNallanand Michelle Rahmanparticipated in the tree selection run. Rahman held her sister's high heels while McNallan made a quick dash for the tree of her choice.

"I got the Nutcracker tree!" McNallan said.

"My sister ran for it, but I get it this year," Rahman said.

The team approach pleased them both.

Scott Davis,along with wife Karen Cady,attended with Ryanand Ann Backus.Karen and Ryan designed "Black Tie Christmas," a tree decorated with bowties.

Commenting on the inspiration for their design, Cady said, "Ryan wears bowties; we wanted to play that up. He's known around town as the bowtie guy."

Davis said it was the first year they had a tree at the festival.


"This is a really neat event," he said. "It's an opportunity to do something to give back."

"We've been supporting this organization for many years. What they do is incredibly important," said Al Mannino,vice president of Home Federal Savings Bank.

"It's the graciousness of our community that keeps this organization rolling," he added.

According to its mission, Hiawatha Homes provides quality support services to people with disabilities at home and in their community.

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