Festival of Trees holiday fundraiser soars at air museum

Vancouver Rotary Foundation event collects food, cash donations

By Dave Kern, Columbian assistant metro editor

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photoTrinity Brown, 8, of Vancouver admires the tree called “An Autumn Christmas” while on a scavenger hunt with her grandmother, Trin McConnell, who is visiting from the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. The free three-day tree festival drew an estimated 7,750 people.

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Festival facts

This was the first year for the YuleTube 60-second video contest. One entry is from Clark County’s Gary Bock and Jim Mains. Entrants came from as far away as Massachusetts. Check out the six entries at Festival of Trees.

For tickets to the $95-a-person Gala Dinner and Auction on Saturday, call 360-750-0409. The 17 trees will be auctioned along with other items.

The tree winning the People’s Choice Award, “Save Some for Santa,” was designed by Darcy and Meagan Neu. It also won first place and the award for Best Execution of Designer’s Theme. It was sponsored by Awesome Accountants of Clark County.

The Energy Events’ Hot Buttered Run, a private event that also benefits the Vancouver Rotary Foundation, had 1150 adult participants and 300 children, organizers said.

Mix 17 gorgeous Christmas trees with a variety of vintage airplanes and you’ve got a recipe with enough happiness to power Santa’s sleigh.

The 16th annual Festival of Trees chose Pearson Air Museum as its location this year and visitors on Sunday seemed delighted. The price seemed appropriate for a tough financial year: free.

An estimated 7,750 people attended the three-day event, which is a fundraiser for the Vancouver Rotary Foundation.

Gazing around the museum, decked with classic aircraft and elaborate yule trees, Jaydia Martin, 8, observed, “There’s lots of airplanes.”

She then rushed into a rehearsal room with her fellow singers in the Fruit Valley Elementary School Choir. The 20-strong choir looked festive in their royal-blue robes, with Loralie Ahola conducting.

And when they broke into “Deck the Halls,” dozens of appreciative parents and onlookers gleamed. Choir members also played bells and employed ribbons in their rousing performance.

Nearby, 8-year-old Trinity Brown, holding her doll “Ariel,” offered, “I like the fairy tree.” Each

tree had a different theme.

Trinity’s sisters, Serrena Brown, 15, and Kayla Brown, 12, were more excited about flying than the trees. They spent time in a museum room stocked with 14 flight simulators.

“I was trying not to crash,” Serrena said. But did she? “Yes, like three times.”

Dan Williams of Vancouver, himself a pilot, said guests were using the Microsoft Flight Sim 10.

“They can fly everything from small Cessnas to jetliners,” Williams said. He said he enjoyed volunteering with the new pilots. “Usually a little bit of coaching helps,” he added.

Arielle Balmoja, 11, a student at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, seemed fascinated when one of the trees asked, “What’s your name?”

“It talks,” she said. Some Rotary magic was there as the tree was greeting all who came by. Arielle was at the festival with her mom, Alicia Balmoja.

Rotarian Al Bernstein, in a Santa hat, noted he’s been at every tree festival.

“It was very little in the beginning and then it got very big and now it’s smaller,” he said. “I’ve been Santa every year.”

Katlin Smith, also of Rotary, said barrels of food were donated and lots of folks gave cash.

The big money for the Rotary foundation’s efforts comes next Saturday at the $95-a-person Gala Dinner and Auction, when the 17 trees will go to high bidders. The bids can be in the thousands of dollars.

And that money will go back into the community. Vancouver Rotary Foundation has contributed more than $2.9 million in scholarships and grants to community groups since it was established in 1972.