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Catherine Townsend will never forget the pride she felt when she first saw her blue spruce tree in the heart of Millennium Park, its sturdy branches covered in colorful Christmas lights.
"It was simply gorgeous,” she recalls. “When we were near the tree and taking pictures, we'd hear comments [like] ‘Oh, that's gorgeous,’ and the little kids were oohing and aahing."
It was a moment of pleasure for Townsend, 85, who nurtured that tree from a sapling.
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After purchasing her red brick home in the city's Madison Park neighborhood in 1983, Townsend, a retired Chicago Public Schools teacher, bought three blue spruce trees. She hired the little boy next door to plant the trees but never imagined that the 3-foot-tall saplings would grow into towering evergreen trees.
During her home search she always admired the stately evergreens she'd see on people's properties. “I thought they added such elegance to the homes,” she says. “I was looking [for a tree] that would perhaps be 14 feet, never 45 feet."
Looking back, Townsend confesses that even if she'd known the evergreens would grow to 45 feet, she still would have planted them in her yard.
A gardener's delight
This year, as Townsend prepared to sell her home in the Madison Park neighborhood of Chicago, her daughter, Sherri Mitchell, read an article in a local newspaper that the City of Chicago was seeking nominations for its official Christmas tree. The winning tree would be displayed in Millennium Park. Mitchell encouraged her mom to enter.
The blue spruce was such a fixture in their yard, Mitchell thought it would make the perfect centerpiece to the city's Christmas festivities.
Planted in their side yard, the tree was the first thing Mitchell and her sister saw when they opened the shades in the kitchen window each morning. Townsend placed a bench beneath the tree to provide a spot to sit in the shade, and the neighborhood children called it “the Christmas tree” long before the family considered the evergreen a monument to the holidays.
Although the City of Chicago has been hosting an annual Christmas tree lighting since 1913, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events only started inviting local residents to nominate their trees for the honor in 2009.