Circle of Trees event to feature new model of library

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The holiday season is upon Punxsutawney, and Barclay Square’s circle of patiently waiting pines is proof that Christmas is just around the corner.

This year will mark the Rotary Club’s fourth-annual Circle of Trees project. Placed Veterans’ Day weekend, 19 artificial trees surround Memorial Bandstand in Barclay Square, ready to be decorated by local non-profit groups and scheduled for illumination on “Light Up Night” Saturday.

According to Rotarian Tom Chelgren, chairman of the project, the tree lighting, however, won’t be the only noteworthy event of the evening. The Rotary’s newest venture is likely to steal the show.

“Call it a trip down memory lane if you want to, because that’s what it is,” he said.

Rotary, in partnership with Punxsutawney resident Jeff Marshall, a “Phantastic Phil!” artist and creative director of Raw Cut Foam Design — an enterprise that recently won second honorable mention in Penn State’s Business Ideas Gone Wild competition — plans to recreate historical Punxsy in one-tenth scale models.

This year, the first model of its kind — a free-standing replica of the public library, which was formerly located at 217 W. Mahoning St. — will be unveiled. The library was originally the family residence of Jacob L. and Carrie Fisher and was donated to the community by the John Jacob Fisher Post.

Opened in 1944, it was closed in 1974 after the Punxsutawney Memorial Library was founded. The public library was demolished in 1998 due to structural hazards.

The entirely weather-resistant, three-dimensional foam model will be three-and-a-half feet tall with an area of four-by five-feet, Chelgren said.

“We wanted to create something unique to Punxsutawney, and that’s where this idea was born from,” he said.

The long-term project is the kind that “sort of evolves,” he said.

In 2011, the Rotary, along with Marshall, plans to have a connecting historical reproduction of multiple buildings to line the sidewalks of Barclay Square during the Christmas season.

“If all goes as planned, we’ll have East and West Mahoning streets extending one block in each direction,” Chelgren said. “It will be like a walk through Main Street in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”

In addition to the former library, Rotary plans to recreate the “five icons of Punxsy,” which the club considers to be Mahoning Hardware Co., the former Spirit building, the post office and the junior high school.

The project, which has been cooking since before last Christmas, Chelgren said, will add to the area’s appeal.

“We’re going to continue to grow the park,” he said. “This is going to create more traffic to Punxsutawney, ultimately to help the downtown businesses.”

Though Rotary’s new endeavor is bound to turn heads, of course, the Circle of Trees project will not pass silently through the night.

“It’s probably a tradition to have a community Christmas tree as far back as time exists,” Chelgren said. “At least in Barclay Square.”

Beginning in the late 1990s, he said, Rotary donated the live Christmas tree that illuminated the park each season. The annual lighting of the bandstand’s 18-foot artificial tree, directly following the “Home for the Holidays Parade,” began in 2006.

The Circle of Trees project followed in 2007, drawing a total of 11 trees. The park is now at its cap of 19, due to electrical restrictions.

For the past three years of the Christmas tree competition, each local group has been assigned a tree to decorate in a Rotary-chosen theme.

Previous themes included “The 12 Days of Christmas,” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” which was embraced by the library’s rocking chair ornaments and the 4-H Club’s rocking horse decorations.

Sponsored by local businesses, each group receives a stipend to decorate its evergreen. The groups participate, not only to compete for monetary prizes, Chelgren said, but to represent their organization’s objectives.

“They’re able to provide, in a very unique way, the ability to convey their group to the public in a way that no other media exists,” he said.

This year’s theme — “Christmas: A Season for Giving” — is based on Rotary’s mission, Chelgren said, and “will tie their group’s mission into a visual sense.” Competitors must “relate, in an ornament, how they give back to the community.”

The competition will commence Saturday at noon. Trees will be judged Friday, both afternoon and night, by out-of-town volunteers. Winners will be announced at the light up ceremony Saturday following the fireworks and parade.

While the Christmas competition is not exactly cut-throat, Chelgren suspects that some contestants will go as far as concealing their “tannenbaums” to sway the spying eye.

“They’re serious about this,” he said.

Rotary has a first-come, first-serve style of waiting list for groups requesting a tree. For now, those groups will have to wait another year or maybe even longer. Groups that participate are allowed to continue participating in subsequent years. From last year to current, only two groups opted out of the competition. Therefore, only two spaces opened up.

This year’s competitors include SSCD School, Kiwanis Key Club, The Salvation Army, Groundhog Festival Committee, Community Center, REACT, Friends of the Library, the Weather Discovery Center, Mahoning Valley Ballet, PCS, SPLASH, Punxsutawney Middle School Student Government, Community Action Inc. Crossroad Project, Garden Club, Fast & Furious 4-H Club, Punxsutawney Arts Association Inc., ARC, the Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society and Punxsutawney Career Women’s Club.

“The first year, we were literally overwhelmed by requests,” Chelgren said. “I would have never envisioned how involved groups get to decorate these trees. It really has gone over the top.”

The Circle of Trees project is sponsored by Mulberry Square Elder Care & Rehabilitation Center, S&T Bank, Marion Center Bank, Miller Brothers Furniture, Community First Bank, Thermal-Gard and Burke & Sons.

“The sponsors are really great,” Chelgren said. “So many groups need money. This provides them (sponsors) the ability to donate to Rotary Club and basically give to 19 groups in one action.”

Nine prize-winning trees will be awarded. The top prize of $500 will go to “best overall appearance,” with additional awards going to “best overall daytime appearance” and “best overall nighttime appearance.”

This competition will not only mark a community’s tradition, but it will also feature an acknowledgement of growth for the future.

“We knew we had a nice idea — a great idea,” Chelgren said. “We just didn’t know how well it was going to be accepted. It really has made Barclay Square a focal point of town for the holiday season.”