Goshen News, Goshen, IN

December 2, 2013

LAST CHRISTMAS: Family decorates dying tree for 28th, final time

Goshen family decorates dying tree for 28th, final time

By JOHN KLINE john.kline@goshennews.com
Goshen News

---- — GOSHEN — Christmas in Goshen may shine just a little less brightly in the coming years following news that the large Christmas tree along Indiana Avenue decorated annually by the Gene Stutsman family is on its final year.

According to Stutsman, he and his family have had a long-running tradition of decorating the nearly 70-foot-tall blue spruce located on the family’s property in the 800 block of South Indiana Avenue. This will be the 28th year the family has decorated the outdoor wonder.

“The tree was actually a family Christmas tree when I was a kid,” Stutsman said of the tree. “We actually used it inside, and then planted it outside when we were done with it.”

Stutsman joked that when he first got the idea for decorating the tree, he thought a few strings of lights and one electrical outlet would have him covered. Today, that number has jumped to five 20-amp outlets and over 2,400 LED lights, resulting in one of the largest — and brightest — Christmas trees in the area.

“I’d say I put in probably seven hours on a cherry picker, and it takes us another four to five hours after that to get everything ready,” Stutsman said of the tree’s preparation. “We used to have to buy 300 bulbs a year in order to keep them all lit, but now with the LEDs they have a little better longevity.”

Unfortunately, that longevity doesn’t appear to have transferred over to the tree itself.

Over the last 10 years, Stutsman said he noticed that the aging tree had begun to show increasing signs of damage, and it was later discovered that the tree had been attacked by a particularly virulent form of tree fungus that is nearly impossible to stop.

“It’s a type of fungus that attacks blue spruces when they reach a certain age,” Stutsman said. “The blue spruce tree’s natural habitat is up in the mountains, and with all the pollution around them down here, eventually they can’t stand it anymore and they start to get this fungus attacking them.”

This year, as he was putting up lights around the upper reaches of the tree, Stutsman said he noticed that at least half of the needles on the upper two-thirds of the tree were browning out.

“And the bottom third of the tree is already browned out,” Stutsman said. “I’ve tried everything, but I can’t save it. I’ve gone through the Purdue Extension office and all that, but there’s just nothing we can do for it.”

The end of the Stutsman Christmas tree marks the end of a much-beloved tradition for many in the Goshen area, as over the years its bright boughs and warm glow have helped to usher in the Christmas season for the surrounding community.

“I’ve had a lot of people say its become a big, important holiday tradition here in Goshen,” Stutsman said of the tree. “It had gotten so big that about 10 years ago my wife suggested maybe we should stop working at it. But since it was such a big tradition for so many people in the area, we decided to keep at it.”

Stutsman said he plans to keep the tree lit through the end of the year, after which he will begin preparations for having the tree removed.

“When we take the lights off this time, I think we’ll probably take a few chunks off the top so we can take the rest down later,” Stutsman said.

As for a possible replacement for the iconic tree, Stutsman said it’s definitely something he’s considering.

“I’ll probably have to put another tree in, but it definitely won’t be as big,” Stutsman said. “It’s been with us a long time. We’re going to miss it.”