Main Event: Holiday cheer among the Trees

Art Gust and his wife Ann Fahy-Gust of Pine Island, Minn. admire the decorated Christmas Trees on display at the Mayo Civic Center during this years Festival of Trees opening night gala to benefit Hiawatha Homes. The couple have attended the event the past 4-5 years and love it. It is a great way to start the Christmas season and a good fundraiser for Hiawatha Homes.

The 27th annual Festival of Trees, the major fundraising event for Hiawatha Homes, has become a fixture on the Rochester holiday scene.

Opening with a Tuesday night gala, continuing through Thanksgiving and wrapping up on Sunday, the five-day event, Nov. 20-25, attracted more than 12,000 people, according to Hiawatha Homes' estimate. The event raised $166,500 for the organization.

"Festival of Trees has become a family tradition," said Jacque Arnold,from Hinsdale, Ill., who was visiting with her mother, Judy Kuehn.

"Visiting the Festival of Trees is a long-standing tradition with our family," Arnold said. "I've been going for years and now it's something my children, Haley, Vincent and Lucy, look forward to as well. It sets the mood for the Christmas season."

Larry Johnson, one of the volunteers and a member of the Hiawatha Homes board of directors, said, "I was the first treasurer for the board. We have a son in one of the homes, so I have been involved for many years. The festival just keeps getting better and better."


Another volunteer who was busy greeting guests said, "I always work one of the days at the festival. It's such a great cause and wonderful, uplifting event."

""I've been coming for 25 years, helping out with it is one of my joys," said Marilyn Olson.

Admiring the trees was Stephanie Pasch. "We are here to listen to the kids play from First Presbyterian in Rochester," she said. "They are middle school children and do a wonderful performance. We come every year anyway."

"I like to come on Sunday every year; there's a quiet, peaceful atmosphere. I absolutely love the Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme Tree by the woodcarvers. The Old Woman in the Shoe is just amazing," said Dianna Horntvedt.

Numerous miniature trees decorated in a variety of themes were in the silent auction. One of the admirers, Melissa Atkinson, was contemplating bidding on one.

"This is my first time coming to Festival of Trees," she said. "A friend invited me, and I know I will be back every year."

"I really like the Victorian trees, the lace and bows and things," said Joyce Jurgenson. "I love it when you see trees decorated with nostalgic, childhood favorites. Now, I'm itching to get home and begin decorating my tree."

Bill Hawkins, from California, was sitting on a bench, resting his legs.


"This is my first time here," he said, "but it's more than I could have expected. It's really something, all the work and effort that goes into the trees and all the other decorations."

A special tree with photos of servicemen and women, past and present was a favorite of many.

"It's very touching, gives me goose bumps," said Verna Kraft. "It's a beautiful tree and makes a statement."

Established in 1976, Hiawatha Homes benefits 130 individuals through their residential homes and community based programs.

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