From Michigan family to Reagans: Blue Room Christmas tree

Dec. 6 will be a red-letter day for Steven and Deborah Vander Weide and their four small daughters. At 10 a.m. they will go to the White House to present President and Mrs. Reagan with a 20-foot-tall Michigan blue spruce Christmas Tree.

The presentation ceremonies will take place in the White House Blue Room, where the tree will stand throughout the Christmas Holidays.

Mr. Vander Weide won the honor with an eight-foot-tall white spruce tree he entered last August in the annual contest held by the National Christmas Tree Association.

The tree is to be cut Dec. 3 at a secret place near Manton (about 200 miles northwest of Detroit) and trucked to the nation's capital. Mr. and Mrs. Vander Weide and daughters Sarah, 8, Laura, 5, Julia, 2 and Krista, 5 months, will fly to Washington on the fifth.

The Christmas Tree Association, based in Milwaukee, has been holding its prestigious competition at its conventions since 1966, explains Jane Svenicke, associate executive director. Since the group meets biannually, two winners are chosen and each provides a Christmas tree for the interior of the white house on successive years.

The other grand champion, Hal Johnson, a North Carolina tree farmer, will provide the 1985 tree. (The larger Christmas tree for the White House lawn comes from another source.)

As both presidential candidates and Christmas tree growers will testify, it is a long road to the White House. According to Prof. Melvin R. Koelling, Christmas tree specialist in the Department of Forestry at Michigan State University in East Lansing, it takes from 7 to 13 years for a tree to become marketable, depending on the variety. Scotch pines are ready when they are 7 years old, white spruce when they are 11, blue spruce at 12, and Douglas fir at 13, Dr. Koelling says.

Vander Weide recalls that he began cutting Christmas trees when he was 11. His father had planted a few on the family dairy farm as an experiment.

This year's Christmas tree champ says he began looking at Christmas trees as a serious business in the fall of 1972, a few months before he and Deborah were married.

He cut, baled, and hauled a truckload of trees to Atlanta, where he sold them on a vacant lot he rented. He and his wife repeated this process for the following six years.

They planted the first of their own trees in the spring of 1973, he recalls. Now they have 1.3 million trees (75 percent of them Scotch pine) growing on their own or leased acreage.

''In the next few weeks we will ship a total of 120,000 trees to markets, mostly in the South and Southwest,'' Vander Weide said in a recent interview. ''As soon as the last load leaves the farm in the second week of December, we'll get in the car and go call on our customers to see how things are going and make our collections. We get home just in time for Christmas.''

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.