After city officials decided last year to go without, Independence will have a Christmas tree this year.
The Mayor's Christmas Tree, a 20-foot tall Colorado blue spruce, is in Hiram Young Park between Noland Road and Memorial Drive – just east of the Square – where city crews planted it earlier this week.
Independence resident Gerald Scranton donated the tree, which had been near the driveway and street at his Dover Drive home. The lighting ceremony for the Mayor's Christmas Tree will be Dec. 1.
Last year, the city did not have a Christmas tree next to the Harry Truman statue on the Square as it had in years past. The fully lit artificial tree purchased in 2011 for $30,000 had reached the end of its useful life and was beyond repair, and rather than spend $40,000 for a new tree in what was a tight budget, city officials decided to forgo having a tree, causing some local social media consternation.
Scranton said he approached the city in September last year about donating the tree, which had been planted on his property and stood about 4 feet tall before he moved in 18 years ago. He thought it would make a good Mayor's Christmas Tree, but didn't hear back.
Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said Scranton's offer came just as city officials were deciding what to do regarding a tree and they weren't prepared for it.
“We just didn't have a place for it, so we couldn't accept it,” Weir said.
Scranton said the tree had grown too big for its proximity to his driveway and storm sewer.
“Really, it was planted in the wrong spot,” Scranton said. “It started to become a safety hazard, backing out of the driveway.
“I'm glad it's been removed. They did a great job; a year from now you'll never know it was there.”
City officials revisited Scranton's offer over the winter and decided Hiram Young Park would make a good spot for the tree.
“It's pretty under-utilized,” Weir said, “and it gives a natural connection to the Square. There's some other enhancements to the park that we're working on.”
Charlotte Olejko, the city's parks horticulturalist, visited Scranton to pitch the idea.
“I thought it was a great idea,” Scranton said. “The park needed a little tender, loving care anyways, to make it up and look nice.”
Weir said that with the tree lighting one night and the Mayor's Christmas Carnival and Christmas Concert in the following days, it should make a festive holiday season weekend for the community.
“It's something I hope becomes a cherished tradition in our city,” she said.
Scranton said he and his twin 12-year-old granddaughters have been asked to throw the switch to light the tree.
“I'm looking forward to that,” he said. “This tradition means a lot to me and my family. I'm proud to give this tree to the city so it will be enjoyed by more people for generations to come.”