Festival of Trees delights children, adults

Paula Meece decorates a tree for Venture Mechanical Contractors with the theme "Have Your Elf a Merry Little Christmas."

DANVILLE — The delight in children’s eyes and the smiles on adults’ faces at the Festival of Trees make all the hard work worth it.

“From Day 1, the people enjoy it,” said Greg Robison, who’s been volunteering since the festival started 23 years ago. “It’s great to see how much they enjoy it and to see the smiles on their faces. That’s the reason I do it.”

The volunteers are working long days to make sure the annual event is a success.

The OSF Festival of Trees opens Saturday and concludes Wednesday at David S. Palmer Arena, 100 W. Main St. This year’s theme is “Spread the Cheer.” Proceeds will go to help buy a Medivan.

Almost 100 decorated trees and about 50 wreaths and centerpieces will help get visitors into the holiday spirit. Other features include fresh-baked gingerbread and sugar cookies, crafts and activities for children, entertainment, a visit by Santa, a raffle area and gift store, Junior Parade of Trees and more.

“To bring families back year after year, we want to bring back the favorites they love, and also give them new experiences,” said Festival of Trees event coordinator Angie Lazzell. “We’ve got a schedule full of fun and exciting events, activities and entertainment for everyone.”

For families, there is a holiday breakfast, as well as family pajama party, Olaf & Friends, Princess Tea Party, and family night bingo. Adult-only events include the women’s luncheon, Craft Beer & Trivia, art party and a Senior Celebration.

New this year is an escape room, sponsored by Watchfire, that will provide a great team-building opportunity on Saturday and Sunday.

A new feature this year is Santa’s throne, a raised platform in the center of the arena where the gentleman will hear children’s wishes. It was made by Wade Anderson’s building trades students at Georgetown-Ridge Farm High School.

Snowflakes and lights over that area will give it a magical look.

Other events include a build-a-buddy (pet) for children, free books donated by Kohl’s, public library employees reading books to children and Tricoci University of Beauty students braiding hair and giving glitter tattoos.

At the raffle area, Debbie Michenfelder, major gifts officer at OSF HealthCare Foundation, said the items will range from $500 in cash to two Nintendo Switch systems, as well as a BMW electric car, a wagon with games, Frozen and American Girl items, and a variety of baskets.

Tickets are two for $5 or five for $10.

“Regardless of the ice, snow or wind, people still come to the festival,” Michenfelder said. And so does Santa. “It will be fun.”

To make the magic happen, volunteers have been working 16-hour days, and the festival couldn’t happen without them, Lazzell said.

“You have people who are dedicated,” she said. “A lot of them have been here since the beginning.”

The festival was started by Sarah Robison, when she held the position with the hospital foundation now held by Lazzell, annual fund coordinator with OSF HealthCare Foundation.

Husband Greg Robison started volunteering there, in 1997, and continues to this day with son Frank. They described their job as being in logistics, which means moving items and making sure things get done, Greg said. They built the teddy bear tree, which was used in past festivals.

Frank, now 27, remembers running around the festival floor as a child with Ryan O’Shaughnessy, who’s now co-chairman of the festival.

Frank will take over his dad’s volunteer activities, saying, “He’s ready to be sitting next to the fireplace on days like this (snowy and cold).”

Since 1997, the Festival of Trees has raised more than $4.2 million for the community outreach programs and special health care initiatives of OSF HealthCare Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Proceeds from this year’s event will help individuals with transportation challenges get to medical appointments with the purchase of a Medivan. In addition, proceeds will benefit areas of greatest need within OSF Sacred Heart Medical Center.

The platinum sponsor for the 2019 Festival of Trees is the Julius W. Hegeler II Foundation and the diamond sponsor is Iroquois Federal.

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