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Tree lighting: Always a local hit

by: BRIAN MONIHAN, 
Volunteers from the Lake Oswego Rotary Club, including Chuck O’Leary, Vic Keeler and Paul Graham, pictured, gathered at the Lake Oswego Chamber office last Sunday to repair many of the snowflakes that adorn Lake Oswego’s Holiday Tree at Bigelow Plaza. Besides replacing bulbs, members also restrung the electrical wiring on many of the snowflakes.

You might think that Lake Oswegans might not be in a mood to celebrate this time of year.

As far as the national economy is concerned, tis the season not to be jolly.

Not only that, but there is always the potential for freezing, numbing weather.

But as far as the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce Holiday Tree Lighting goes, it does not matter. The lights go on again on Friday, Nov. 28, at 5 p.m. at the Safeway parking lot at Bigelow Plaza on Avenue A.

Whether the economy is bad or whether the weather is bad, the event that starts the holiday season in Lake Oswego always draws a big crowd, attracting thousands of people.

The event has even survived the tree getting too tall.

No matter what, the holiday spirit in Lake Oswego always prevails.

'There's a huge crowd, rain or shine,' said Chuck O'Leary, who has participated in the event ever since he moved to Lake Oswego 15 years ago. 'I think it's because of the spirit of the community and the spirit of the holidays. Everyone thinks it's the official kickoff of the holiday season.

'It doesn't matter what the weather is like. One year we had freezing rain and oh was it cold! There was scalding apple cider being served and it would chill in two minutes. But 700 or 800 people still showed up. We've had up to 2,500 people show up over the years.

'It's a great event. It never fails to put people in a holiday mood.'

'I think it's so popular because it just means that the holidays are here,' said Vic Keeler, another long-time volunteer. 'The tree is the symbol of that. It gives an old-time community type of feeling.'

'We get the high school choir out there, and the local coffee shops fall all over themselves to provide coffee and hot chocolate,' O'Leary said. 'Safeway and Wizer's are great, and a lot of guys from the city maintenance department work off the clock to help put this on.'

There's another good reason the tree is popular.

'You can see it from all over town,' O'Leary said.

Because of its popularity, the Lake Oswego Chamber never has trouble keeping the event going.

'We get volunteers mostly from Rotary Club and all kinds of other folks, mostly chamber members,' O'Leary said. 'It's easy to get volunteers to help any way we can.

'It's never a problem raising money. Everyone wants to be part of the celebration. If we get $1,000 in unexpected expenses, we just make a couple of phone calls and its done in an hour.'

This year a group of volunteers gathered prior to the event in order to get ready. They had to replace a whopping 600 light bulbs, besides cleaning the harnesses.

'We didn't do it last year, so we were playing catch-up,' O'Leary said.

There have been greater challenges along the way, too. By the year 2000 the tree had simply grown too tall for lights to be strung all the way to the top. The solution was 'snowflakes,' as suggested by Gary and Joan Wright. A few fundraisers helped buy 35 snowflakes, which hold 35 light bulbs each.

The Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce Holiday Tree Lighting has come to fill the tradition gap left when the popular Living Christmas Tree was canceled by government officials for safety reasons.

Keeler said, 'A lot of people tell us, 'Hey, that was great. Thanks for getting it up again.' '

'It is always so much fun every year,' O'Leary said. 'It's a great example of what Lake Oswego is all about. We may fuss and fight about some issues, but this thing brings everyone together.'

The 2008 Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce Holiday Tree Lighting committee is made up of Chamber staff members: Jerry Wheeler, Sandra Kaufman, Lori Lauber and Sean Minogue.