What it takes to be a White House Christmas tree
The Christmas trees for River Hills/Lake Wylie Lions Club arrived a little late this year because the tree farmer had to make a special delivery to Washington, D.C.
Larry Smith, owner of Mountain Top Fraser Fir in Newland, N.C., has supplied the York County club with Christmas trees for its annual fundraiser for the last decade.
“We got 280 trees last year, and we made a little over $10,000 last year,” River Hills/Lake Wylie Lions Club member Bob Daily said. “We had a good year last year, that was the most we ever made.”
Last year, Smith won a national competition that placed one of his trees in the Blue Room of the White House for Christmas 2018.
“That’s sort of like winning the Super Bowl of Christmas tree growing,” Smith said.
Contest judges select a winner based on the tree’s taper, thickness and color — a wider tree with a straight top is generally preferred. Smith walks through his farm every summer and identifies potential candidates.
“A competition tree is more dense. I prefer to decorate a tree that has a lighter density so you can hang ornaments on it,” he said. “Of course, you’re looking for the perfect tree and that’s in the eyes of the beholder.”
The White House head usher and head groundkeeper visited Smith’s farm in September to select a tree for the Blue Room. The tree had to measure 19.5-feet tall and 12 to 14 feet wide. To his surprise, the chosen tree was one Smith had abandoned years ago.
“I didn’t think they’d consider that one,” he said. “It was like the Cinderella tree. I hadn’t trimmed it in the last couple years, so it had more of a natural look.”
On Nov. 19, he watched as his natural beauty was hauled to the White House on a horse-drawn carriage. Later he met the president and first lady, and saw his tree standing tall and decorated in the Blue Room of the White House.
“I’ve grown trees since I was a senior in high school in 1977, it’s been a passion of mine for a long time,” Smith said. “So this is like the ultimate dream.”
River Hills/Lake Wylie Lions Club Christmas tree lot at the entrance to Camp Thunderbird at 1 Thunderbird Lane in Lake Wylie is selling Smith’s dream trees and sales go to help the club’s charities. The Fraser firs range from 4 to 12 feet, plus there are wreaths and garland for sale.
The club gives about $100,000 annually to charities, 80 percent goes to local groups, while district and international efforts receive 20 percent.
Daily said two of the club’s largest local donations go to Clover Area Assistance Center and PATH (People Attempting to Help). The club also donates to Hospice Community Care, Clover High School education scholarships, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and York County Adult Day Care among others.
“We raise money to take care of people in our community,” Daily said.
The River Hills/Lake Wylie Lions Club also holds its Pancake Breakfast with Father Christmas 8:30-11 a.m. Dec. 8 at Camp Thunderbird. Tickets cost $9 and include a free vision test. Call 803-371-8083 for more information.