From Westfield, with love
Couple donates first Tree of Hope to Roswell
WESTFIELD — For years, Barb and Jerry Kittle have watched the lighting of the Tree of Hope at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center on television. “We have 300 evergreen trees here,” said Barb Kittle of the couple’s 40 acres located in the town of Westfield. “We thought, ‘Maybe one year, our tree will be selected to be the Tree of Hope.'” Little did she know, not only would one of their trees be selected, but it would also be the first tree to be donated for the special annual event.
According to Rebecca Vogt, media relations specialist at Roswell, the Tree of Hope has been a live tree located in Kaminski Park & Gardens. “The best way to put it is that the tree wasn’t so happy,” Vogt told the OBSERVER. “It had to get uprooted and relocated to another part of the campus. It was decided then that we would have a new Tree of Hope brought in every year.” Unaware that Roswell was actually in need of a tree for the first time ever, Kittle reached out to the center via email explaining that their property has over 300 trees and they would be happy to donate one. “We wanted to do this because everyone is affected by cancer, whether it’s someone in your family or yourself or friends,” Kittle explained.
While the Kittles only recently contacted Roswell, the story of their tree actually much earlier. “We bought this property that we’re at about 25 years ago, and it is in a wooded area,” Kittle explained. “My husband, Jerry, decided to plant some seedlings — 350 trees — that he’s babied for the last 20-some years. They are now quite big, and they’re beautiful!”
While the Kittles do not operate the property as a Christmas tree farm, they enjoy the large trees, which have grown approximately one foot each year. “The property is about eight miles from the village of Westfield, which is where we lived,” Kittle explained. “After we both retired, we decided to build a house and live on our 40 acres. Five years ago, we moved in on December 23, which I wouldn’t advise any one to do,” Kittle laughed.
After the couple reached out to Roswell, staff members came to their property to see the tree selection. “They actually had a drone that they used, and they went all over our property with it and were zeroing in on different trees that they thought might be good ones,” Kittle explained.
It was decided that a 25-feet tall tree located near the couple’s house would be the perfect choice for the Tree of Hope. “It’s an evergreen tree — my husband thinks it’s a blue spruce, though we’re not tree experts,” Kittle explained. “It was chosen, I think, in part because of the ease of cutting it down and getting it on the trailer. I think because it was such a nicely shaped tree and so nice and full, they decided that would be a good one to use.”
On Tuesday morning, a crew from Roswell drove to the couple’s property to cut down the tree and load it on a flat-bed trailer. “When I got up that morning, I said to my husband, ‘It feels like Christmas morning because I am so excited that they are using my tree for the Tree of Hope!'” Kittle told the OBSERVER.
That morning, the Kittles were joined by friends June and David Beers, who watched the process unfold. “I recently lost a very dear friend of mine, Jean, to cancer,” said Kittle. “We have two very good friends, June and David Beers, who are both cancer survivors. June is in treatment at Roswell right now, and she’ll be there on Friday for another chemotherapy treatment. They were up here to watch the tree cut down because I said I wanted to do this in memory of my friend Jean and in honor of my friend June.”
Indeed, the Tree of Hope holds special significance for many people who attend the annual event at Roswell Park, including those who are cancer survivors or who have loved ones currently receiving treatment. The annual Tree of Hope lighting takes place Friday, Dec. 13 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. All are invited to join the festivities, which include a display of nearly 75,000 animated lights orchestrated to music, a gingerbread house contest and raffle, live music, horse-drawn carriage rides, face painting, refreshments and more. Those who plan to attend the fun, free event should RSVP at roswellpark.org/treeofhope. The tree lighting will be covered live by WGRZ-TV Channel 2 News from 5 to 6:30 p.m. that night.