In the 1970s, Gordon and Barbara Bills began planting evergreens to sell as Christmas trees on their land by 12 Mile Lake.
The Bills planted about 1,000 trees by hand each year until they retired from the business in 2009.
His granddaughter Brooke Pruitt remembers getting the first pick of the trees every year after Thanksgiving before he opened it up to the public.
Even though the Bills were done selling, the trees kept growing. It was one of these Colorado Blue Spruces that served as Creston’s first community Christmas tree in 2021 at the depot in conjunction with Merry Marketplace.
“We had a meeting, and the idea was tossed out,” Elevate Uptown committee member Meredith Wulf said. “It would be so cool if we had a gigantic community Christmas tree up at the depot.”
The tree was perhaps two decades old and approximately 17-feet tall.
This year, the tree was donated by Chad and Amy Rieck from their property formerly known as Pine Valley Golf and Bowl.
“It’s a lot to give up a tree of that size,” Wulf said. “People who are maybe looking to do some changes on the grounds, we hope they will keep us in the back of their minds.”
When the Elevate Uptown committee decided to do a formal tree-lighting event this year, they knew the person lighting the tree had to be someone special.
“With them (the Bills) being so generous last year, we reached out to the family,” Wulf said.
Unfortunately, Gordon passed away in March at 87 years old. His great-granddaughter, Jenna Pruitt, 12, will be representing her family Thursday as she lights the tree.
Jenna said she’s excited, but a little nervous because she’s never done this before. She remembers her great-grandpa loved to fish and be outdoors. She doesn’t know what she wants to do when she grows up quite yet, but she doesn’t plan on becoming a Christmas tree farmer like Gordon. “It would be very boring,” she said.
“The goal is to make that the tradition,” Wulf said. “Whoever provided the tree the year before is able to light the tree for the next year.”
Barbara is planning to attend the event, weather permitting.
The tree-lighting event will start with live music by Kathryn Fox at 5:45 p.m. Thursday at the depot. At 6:15, Mayor Gabe Carroll will speak and introduce Jenna who will light the tree. After the lighting, the Southwestern Community College (SWCC) choir will perform for about 20 minutes.
The Lighted Christmas Parade begins at 7 p.m. The parade begins at the corner of Pine and Mill streets, then goes south at Elm Street to Montgomery. It turns west until Division Street to Adams and ends at Walnut.
Various activities take place in multiple locations throughout the area. Santa visits with children at the depot before the parade from 4:30-7 p.m. Elves will be on hand to take pictures for a fee and will hand out free cider and doughnuts. Fireworks will light up the sky following the parade.
The restored depot art gallery will host new SWCC art instructor Kelly Devitt’s ceramic sculptures for the month of December.
Elevate Uptown committee members Terri Van Gelder and Karlie Hyde were joined by their husbands Brad Van Gelder and Jason Hyde Monday as they began the process of decorating the tree.
While Iowa’s wind wreaked havoc on last year’s tree, this year, the committee has worked through the growing pains. “We have tweaked some things. James Young pulled together plans from the Lenox tree stand and sourced all the materials,” Wulf said of committee member Sarah Young’s husband. “TJ Parsons and his city crew are a huge help. They help us with the boom truck so we can put the star on top.”
In addition to Merry Marketplace, the eight woman Elevate Uptown committee is also responsible for the Market on Maple and Farm to Fork events.
“There are lots of different talents on the committee,” Wulf said. “It’s very balanced; everyone has their specialties. We all come from different areas in the community so we’re able to resource the people we know.”