AKRON, Ohio (WJW) — Akron Children’s Hospital’s 42nd Annual Holiday Tree Festival kicks off on Saturday with another spectacular display of 151 trees, wreaths and holiday decorations on display, for sale and being raffled.
“It’s gorgeous, and each year I say, ‘It can’t get any better. It just can’t.’ And each year, it does,” said Mary Leuca, the event chairperson who has been involved with the festival for more than 16 years.
“You can go back and do the traditional tree, so you can bring in the more ‘Barbie’ tree that’s up-to-date for now. But it just; there’s so many things for everybody,” said Yvonne Paulus, who has been visiting the festival for much of her life, and who has helped decorate about a dozen trees over the years.
Decorators do have some requirements, but are encouraged to use their creativity.
Trees at this year’s festival include some that are decorated to represent trends, like a “Barbie” theme.
One has a dinosaur head as a topper. There are trees with soccer themes; a tree decorated to entirely represent Akron; some representing superheroes; others that take you fishing; and more.
“It’s a lot of work that goes into it, but it’s so much fun and just coming up with the ideas and doing the decorating and being here when everybody else is decorating and watching what their ideas are — it just kind of inspires you for future years,” said Betty Chonko, who has helped decorate trees in years past.
“We have four beech trees, yes, and everyone else went off and did different things. And that’s why I love it this year, because there’s so many different designs of so many different things,” said Leuca.
Some of the trees represent children who have endured health challenges. The “Cap and Bootie” tree is the only one that is not for sale. It represents children who have gone through the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit over the years.
“To relate this to somebody you know is just a wonderful thing — and the fact that she might not have made it here had they not been this good,” said Dan Girsmer, who has a 20-year-old co-worker represented on the tree.
Various main stage displays are the only items in the show that are being raffled.
“These are done by individuals and companies that are up on our main stage and these are the only items that we raffle through the festival. And whatever you see in that raffle, you get absolutely everything,” said Leuca.
The festival kicks off at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 11 and runs through Nov. 18. Admission is free.
Leuca says over the years it has helped raise more than $7 million for the hospital.
“It’s just wonderful that it’s going to such a good cause and making a difference in people’s lives and children’s lives. I think that’s the most important thing,” said Paulus.