In a slight break from tradition, Gardner’s 32nd annual Mayor’s Christmas Tree lighting ceremony was held virtually as opposed to in Cornerstone park. Residents could view the lighting ceremony on social media.
The change was made due to the COVID-19 restrictions and concerns for residents’ health.
The challenges faced during 2020 was the theme of comments made by Steve Shute, mayor, during the ceremony. It is his hope moving forward everyone has a bright 2021.
Last year about 500 smiling people filled the park, sipping free and apple cider while munching on cookies. Council members attended as did Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus who arrived on the fire truck, as they have every year.
It was a cold, wintry night when the tree lighting tradition began. Phyllis Thomen, Gardner mayor from 1981 to 1989, was the mayor then.
Back in 1988, the temperature hovered at 25 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind blew strong and steady. All agreed, though, that no chill could dim the joy of the ceremony.
Gary George, former USD 231 superintendent, said then that the cool weather helped create a festive atmosphere. Residents Don and Gini Lively boiled water in large tubs and toted it from the high school (now Wheatridge Middle School) to a table set up near city hall. Every year, the event brings back good memories, they have said.
“All the happy faces,” Gini Lively said then. “No matter how cold you were, it was good to see the happy, smiling faces when you gave them hot chocolate.”
The city had put in the new city hall, with property from former pharmacist Bill Bond. Bells and lights brightened the front of city hall. The tree came from resident Peggy Cramer’s front yard, and Karl Rueck, a retired pharmacist from the former Gardner Community Medical Center (Reece Hospital), helped Thomen as emcee.
The King’s Ringers, directed by former USD 231 music teacher Kipp Willnauer, huddled in city hall for warmth and volunteers hauled vats of hot chocolate for the first Mayor’s Christmas Tree Lighting. About 35 people attended the first tree lighting, so the event has grown to fifteen times its original size. Carol Lehman, who became mayor in 1989, had one lighting ceremony at City Hall before moving the event to its current location at Cornerstone Park, to accommodate the increase in popularity.
That year also marked the start of the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund. The first year, 20 baskets of food were delivered, and the fund has grown every year. For many years, families often have gone to the park to have family photos taken for their holiday cards. Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Omisoka are among the worldwide holidays in December, and the tree-lighting holiday tradition welcomes every resident of the Gardner community.