DANVILLE — Stepping into the David S. Palmer Arena for the return of the Festival of Trees, is a wonderful sensory experience.

One can smell the gingerbread house creations that include a hot air balloon and also a farm. Organizers expect more than 60 gingerbread houses to be on display.

Warm, delicious gingerbread cookies also will be able to be tasted during the festival that starts today, Saturday, Nov. 13.

The displays and beautifully decorated trees are a sight to behold after not seeing the wonderland that is the Festival of Trees last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s fitting festival theme is “A Season of Hope.”

And the sounds of the season also will be heard throughout the festival on the entertainment stage.

“We know the community’s excited,” festival organizer Jim Anderson said about the Festival of Trees returning this year. He said the organizers and designers are right along with the community’s excitement.

“We’ve had wonderful support from the community,” he said about sponsorships, volunteers and other support.

Partnerships run the gamut. One example is a partnership with the Vermilion County Museum, Vermilion County War Museum and a couple individuals on a display as attendees enter the arena.

One of the mannequins in the display has the uniform of Radioman 3rd Class and Navy veteran Harold Puzey. Puzey is known locally for his playing of Taps on trumpet.

Anderson said they’ve been pleased with transition of the festival to the Balloons Over Vermilion organization.

OSF HealthCare announced last year that after 23 years, the Festival of Trees annual holiday celebration will collaboratively transition to Balloons Over Vermilion, a local not-for-profit, volunteer-led organization responsible for the area’s hot air balloon festival.

Proceeds of the 2021 Festival of Trees will benefit the OSF Bobette Steely Hegeler Cancer Care Center at OSF Sacred Heart Medical Center in Danville.

Title sponsor of the festival is the Julius W. Hegeler II Foundation.

Anderson said the designers of the trees, wreaths and other displays “amaze us every year with their creations. They’re truly the stars.”

He said they have returning and also a lot of new designers.

Designers include Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Michelle Chesnut, who’s worked there 37 years, and Heather Wade, who’s worked there 10 years.

The tree they decorated to go along with the festival’s “A Season of Hope” theme is “I’m hoping for Santa.”

They also spend weeks before the festival getting the raffle baskets wrapped and ready.

Chesnut said they have fun with the festival’s theme each year thinking of tree ideas, and she’s happy to see the festival return this year after a year off due to Covid.

Another designer, Dawn Merrill a home care registered nurse, worked on a tree earlier this week with different colored ribbons on it representing the different types of cancer. All ornaments on the tree are handmade, with her daughter Sydney, helping with the tree.

The tree’s theme is “Hope for the Future” and is sponsored by Dr. Jo-Mel S. Labayog, medical director of the Bobette Steely Hegeler Cancer Care Center.

Marilyn Hansgen with Servpro put the finishing touches on a Grinch-themed tree earlier this week, and Betty Williams finished up her “The Golden Dream” tree sponsored by Iroquois Federal Bank.

Williams used 24 cans of spray paint to make the golden tree. Williams earlier this week was being assisted by Niki Lesko.

“It’s a blast,” Williams said about designing trees for each festival. In the past she’s designed a Miracle on 34th Street tree.

The festival also will again include the center book tree, beautiful wreaths, the Junior Parade of Trees, Santa photo opportunity, the children’s craft room, escape room, playhouse to be raffled that teacher Wade Anderson and the Georgetown-Ridge Farm High School trades class built, the special-ticketed events and much more. Some special events are sold out, but others still have some tickets left.

The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Noon to 7 p.m. Sunday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Tickets are $5 for adults, $2 for children ages 3-12, and children younger than age 2 are free. A family pass, 15 tickets for $30, is good for any day. Veterans, and also children with a paying adult, are free on Sunday, Nov. 14 and senior citizens are free on Tuesday, Nov. 16.

For more information, visit www.festivaloftreesdanville.com.

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