Festival of Trees to spruce up Blennerhassett Hotel

Designer Sarabeth Harris works on a tree sponsored by the dental practices of Dr. Jonathan Harris and Dr. Richard Newhart for the upcoming Festival of Trees at the Blennerhassett Hotel. Designers will finish their trees today so the trees can go on display on Tuesday. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

PARKERSBURG — Volunteers came together at the Blennerhassett Hotel in Parkersburg on Sunday to begin to decorate Christmas trees for the upcoming 2019 Festival of Trees.

Teams of people, representing local businesses, organizations and themselves, gathered Sunday at the hotel in Parkersburg to decorate trees and wreaths for the 33rd annual Easterseals event which will kick off Tuesday. People will come in today to finish the different trees.

The event is a holiday tradition and celebration of art in the Mid-Ohio Valley as well as a longstanding fundraiser for the Easterseals Rehabilitation Center in West Virginia. The center provides medical rehabilitation and pediatric therapy to children and adults in the Ohio Valley, including physical, occupational and speech therapies, early intervention and rehabilitative medical care.

Founded in Wheeling in 1937, the Easterseals Rehabilitation Center is one of 71 affiliates of the national Easterseals organization, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2019.

“We have two days where everyone who is decorating a tree or wreath comes to the hotel and they spend hours getting everything ready for the display,” said Allison O’Konski, Community Relations Director for the Easterseals Rehabilitation Center. “We have a good mix of people with groups and organizations, groups of friends and more.”

Donnie Lutz, of Berkshire Hathaway, helps decorate their tree Sunday at the Blennerhassett Hotel for the upcoming 33rd annual Festival of Trees that goes on display Tuesday at the hotel. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

Some of the trees are being put together by local businesses, such as Berkshire Hathaway, local businesswoman Kiki Angelos, West Virginia Central Mortgage, Cedar Grove Assisted Living Facility and others.

“We have a number of individuals who have been doing this for years and donating their time and money to decorate these trees every year,” she said. “It is a fun, competitive environment where people come up with creative ideas. We are excited to see what everyone comes up with this year.

“Some people will start planning in January for next year’s Festival of Trees event.”

This year’s event will have around 20 trees and a number of wreaths on display.

A team from Berkshire Hathaway was busy Sunday working on a tree and wreath with the theme of “Enchanted Elves.” The local realty office has been involved with the event for around 25 years.

Carole Cunningham is one of a number of designers who were at the Blennerhassett Hotel on Sunday decorating trees for the upcoming Festival of Trees event which starts Tuesday. She is working on a tree with the working theme of “Golden Elegance.” (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

“We have a good time and enjoy supporting the Easterseals,” said Mary Beth Peters, executive administrator. “We all contribute.”

It is the fellowship and camaraderie, said Realtor Michelle McLendon.

“It is all about friendship and helping the Easterseals,” she said.

A committee of employees develop the idea and everyone adds to it. It takes about six months to get everything and pull it all together.

“We go out and search for the items to go on the tree,” Peters said. “We have a little party and put it all together.”

A tree that is being decorated by West Virginia Central Mortgage is expected to be finished today and go on display Tuesday as part of the 33rd annual Festival of Trees at the Blennerhassett Hotel. Around 20 trees and a number of wreaths will be auctioned off Dec. 4 to benefit Easterseals. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

They do online searches for materials and others visit Christmas-themed shops that are open year-round while traveling.

“We just think of the fun we are going to have decorating,” McLendon said.

Their tree sold for $7,800 last year and they are hoping for another good year.

“We have had first place in the traditional category for the last five years,” Peters said.

Designers Carole Cunningham and Sarabeth Harris were sponsored by a couple of local dental practices to decorate a tree. The dentists are Dr. Jonathan Harris and Dr. Richard Newhart. Their tree was still a work in progress Sunday but they are approaching it with the theme of “Golden Elegance,” Cunningham said.

Realtor Jill Bartley, of Berkshire Hathaway, puts the finishing touches on a wreath that will be featured in the upcoming Festival of Trees at the Blennerhassett Hotel which will be on display starting Tuesday. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

“We are using pine cones and a lot of flowers,” she said of the golden colors. “We still have a lot of glitzy stuff to throw in there.

“We like sparkle, glitz and gold. That is what drew us to these materials.”

The two have done trees for a number of years. Last year, the tree they designed was sold for $2,200.

“Each year we try to do a tree that is elegant, that would fit into an office or home setting, that would offer our style of elegance,” Harris said. “In working with the tree it speaks to itself as it comes together.

“We will be making a tree that will inspire anyone in the Christmas Spirit.”

Designer Sarabeth Harris works on the decorations for a tree to be featured in the upcoming Festival of Trees which starts Tuesday at the Blennerhassett Hotel. The working theme of the tree is “Golden Elegance.” The Festival of Trees will go from Nov. 19 to Dec. 4 when the trees will be auctioned off. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

Both women said they liked working around the other designers. There is a sense of camaraderie among all the designers, they said of people willing to help out and offer materials if someone forgot something.

“The true benefit is the money raised to help so many through Easterseals,” Cunningham said.

The trees will be ready for display at the hotel by Tuesday morning. Visitors will be able to come in and look at all of the completed trees, make donations for the People’s Choice winner and more.

“All of the proceeds from the event benefit Easterseals here in the Mid-Ohio Valley and the Upper Ohio Valley,” O’Konski said. “All of this culminates in the auction on Dec. 4.”

The event will include a silent auction for a number of items that will be donated for the event and a live auction for all of the trees and wreaths as well as other items being donated to the event.

“People have between Nov. 19 and Dec. 4 to see the trees on display,” O’Konski said.

In addition to the auction, a Cookies with Santa event will be held Nov. 25 that people can buy tickets for at the Blennerhassett.

O’Konski said 83 percent of their budget goes to patient care and client services.

“When people give to Easterseals they really are supporting those who are getting services who might not otherwise be able to afford them,” she said. “We serve the whole spectrum of needs.”

Last year, the Festival of Trees Auction raised over $34,000. The annual Festival of Trees is always a great way for many to kick off the holiday season.

“It gets you in that holiday spirit when you come in,” O’Konski said. ”We hope people get the chance to appreciate the creativity and the artistic nature of so many people in the community.

“It is really wonderful to see what they are able to put together. Through everything, we appreciate the support for Easterseals.”

Brett Dunlap can be reached at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com


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