Back in 1999, an editorial in this newspaper lamented that while fast-growing Columbia was making efforts toward building up its own identity - with a new Evans courthouse on the way and a library in the planning stages - everyone but us had a Christmas tree.
"What better way to highlight a central focus for Columbia County than with a public Christmas tree, complete with a festive lighting ceremony?" the editorial asked.
Whew. We found out Saturday. The events on the lawn of the Evans Government Complex really put a shine on the Christmas spirit. From Rev. Eric Taylors joyous opening prayer to the Columbia County elementary school childrens closing rendition of "Let There Be Peace on Earth," Saturdays event was a celebration of community pride and holiday spirit.
Yeah, there were a few glitches. The color guard for the ceremony went AWOL, which meant the tattered old flags stayed up on the pole. Few people would have noticed, except that Terri Gibbs astounding rendition of the National Anthem naturally drew hundreds of eyes skyward, revealing a decidedly tattered Star Spangled Banner.
The tree also was perhaps a little smaller than it should have been, owing to an 11th-hour delivery problem (meaning, the one that was delivered was too small). And the first flip of the switch tripped a circuit breaker.
Those problems are remarkable in that they are so minor. This was just the first year; it will be easy to plan next years event so such problems wont re-occur.
Besides: The stuff that went right far overshadows the few minor stumbles:
Terri Gibbs. One song, but what a song. Nailed in all the right notes, in Gibbs husky voice, is proof that the National Anthem is the greatest song on earth. (And to think: Nearly 25 years ago, me and my cohorts used to sneak in to an Augusta honky-tonk to hear Gibbs and her brothers country band.)
The Columbia County Choral Society. Led by Steve Patterson, the Society is an amazing, home-grown group of volunteers who never cease to inspire audiences. In huge demand during the Christmas season, it was an enormous honor for them to agree to the Christmas in America performance.
The childrens chorus. From schools all across Columbia County, the children sang like seasoned veterans. With Blue Ridges Margaret Wiggins on the piano and Stevens Creeks Robin Chaly leading, the kids not only provided exuberant entertainment, but their transportation to the site provided much of the crowd of proud parents and grandparents. (Next year, more chairs!)
The honorary tree lighters. The ceremony recognized our renewed sense of gratitude to our communitys emergency workers, and they seemed touched by the honor.
So, who to thank? At the risk of this sounding like an Academy Award speech, there are some people who should get credit.
My bosses at The News-Times deserve thanks for allowing us to run, free of what would have been considerable charge, advertisements for the fund-raising campaign for the event. And thanks, too, to all the people who responded to those ads by sending in donations, large and small, to make the event possible.
County Commissioner Jim Whitehead is an invaluable ally. Last year we made a deal: Id help him plan a Memorial Day event if hed help get a Christmas tree for Columbia County. We both won - and planning for the second Memorial Day event will begin soon. (Can anybody talk this guy out of retiring from office next year?)
Stacy Adkins, Jason and Miriam Smith, Tony Temple, Kevin Lear, Nettie Engels, Maj. Rick Whitaker, Tom Schneider, Martinez Fire Chief Doug Cooper and many others provided the brains and brawn of the operation.
Charlie Beale, the countys recreation director, who wore a suit to the occasion and posed for pictures with kids. What a great guy.
Jennie Montgomery, my pal at WJBF, who did an incredible job as mistress of ceremonies.
Most of all, thanks to Columbia Countys citizens. This really is a great place to live, and events like Christmas in America help prove it. Thank you to everyone who helped, who participated, who came and sat and watched history in the making.
Columbia County, seeking its place in the universe, or at least a dot on the map, finally has a Christmas tree of its own. Thats a pretty darn good place to start.
(Barry L. Paschal is opinions editor of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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