2004-11-26 / News

SC finds the best Christmas tree ever

By Rachel Haynie

Determined SC should have a holiday tree that symbolized the state’s strong sense of community, a partnership of four organizations sent out a call for the perfect tree. They never dreamed their perfect tree would already have its own story.

BellSouth employees, the Columbia Optimist Club, the Columbia Garden Club, and artist/designer Christian Thee comprise the four forces working to ready the state tree for the annual Carolighting ceremonies. Gov. Mark Sanford will light the huge tree on the State House grounds Sunday evening, November 28.

“Earlier this fall we asked South Carolinians to search their yards, fields, and neighborhoods for the perfect tree,” recalled Columbia Garden Club’s Jane Suggs, chair of the State Christmas Tree project. “We were offered the most beautiful 40–foot Leland cypress tree I or the forestry department officials working with us had ever seen.”

If not for the faith of a South Carolinian, the tree would not have grown up to become the 2004 State Christmas tree.

Dottie Wrightson, a widow living in a retirement community in Murrells Inlet, first rescued the tree at her workplace after the 1986 holidays. The little tree had been brought in as an office decoration, roots and all, but grew scraggly as the holidays wore on.

“They were going to throw it out,” Wrightson told the committee, “but I said I would take it home and plant it.” Wrightson’s next door neighbor, the late Milton Tanner, offered to plant it for her in her yard.

The tree flourished in the sandy coastal soil, and its roots had set in well enough to withstand Hurricane Hugo’s hit, but barely.

“It was coming up out of the ground, but Milton helped me get it set back in,” recalled Wrightson. For nearly two more decades, she nurtured the tree in her yard.

When she heard the state was looking for a special tree, she looked out at her tree and knew this was the one that would make their search worthwhile. “People who have come to see me have always told me it was the most beautiful tree they’d ever seen,” Wrightson said. For such an important purpose, she was willing to let the tree be taken down and moved to Columbia.

As the majestic, triangular–shaped tree was being transported to the State House grounds, artist Christian Thee and members of the Columbia Garden Club worked together in Thee’s backyard. They formed an assembly line, stringing filament through holes punched in reflectors to be hung on the tree.

“My design called for 10,000 lights which would have given the tree a luminous quality like the tree in Rockefeller Center,” said Thee. But the city couldn’t supply enough power for that much wattage, so the committee came up with the reflectors as a way to amplify the lights that could be powered.

Materials for the reflectors were donated by a local business, and topping the tree will be a Thee–designed starburst ornament fabricated by Loxscreen in West Columbia. Columbia volunteers also made huge wooden boxes that will be decorated as presents to go at the base of the large tree.

When the governor switches on the thousands of lights decorating the tree, Wrightson will be close by with her daughter, Roxann Wrightson, and granddaughters Lindsey O’Cain and Savannah Poston.

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