Waimea renews tradition with 40-foot Christmas tree

Kickoff of Lokahi Giving Project slated

Before the 40-foot Monterey Cypress could be felled Monday morning, master woodworker Ski Kwiatkowski talked to it, shared the plan and asked the tree’s permission.

The 80-year-old tree in Puu Pueo, an area owned by Parker Ranch along Mana Road, is the centerpiece of Waimea’s holiday season. It is part of the town’s effort to commemorate Christmases past and ignite traditions.

From the mid-1930s to the 1950s, Parker Ranch employees annually cut down “an immense, full-grown prairie-sized pine,” placed it in the historic Barbara Hall (now Parker School’s main building) and spent a week decorating every branch. It was the main attraction at elaborate Christmas parties hosted by then ranch owner Richard Smart, said Waimea Community Association Secretary Patti Cook.

“A removable wall and the ‘talkies’ movie screen were lowered, and the tree was hoisted inside by an inch-an-a-half thick rope and tack high in the attic,” wrote Richard Chock of the Waimea Settler in 1995. “The pine’s conical top was lopped off, so the mid-section of the tree — plus branches added to it — created a wall-to-wall, and ceiling to floor, granddaddy of all Christmas trees. Was it all of 35 feet wide by 25 feet tall? Was it the Territory of Hawaii’s largest (and prettiest) Yule tree?”

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of its twilight Christmas parade, the Waimea Community Association chose the theme, “Back to the ’50s to Remember When …,” because it wanted to recall, cherish and publicize memories such as this one. When the association asked Parker Ranch if it would renew the practice of harvesting a giant tree from the slopes of Mauna Kea for the community, there was no hesitation, only a resounding yes.

About a month ago, Parker Ranch land manager Brandi Beaudet led association members Riley Smith and Nancy Alvord to a plot of trees planted during the Great Depression. The government in the 1930s offered the ranch subsidies for planting trees along its fence lines. Such subsidies helped America’s farmers and ranchers survive the harsh economic slump, said Nahua Guilloz, Parker Ranch corporate secretary and administrative manager.

Alvord selected “the perfect one.” Deep green, straight, full and complete with windswept branches toward the top, it’s the kind most would want in their living room.

Shortly before 9 a.m. Monday, Kwiatkowski assessed the general condition of the tree. He looked at the lean and the branch distribution for limb weight, as well as noted the wind and where the tree top would fall.

Five minutes later, Charlie Pahio, Parker Ranch’s head mechanic and lead man, took the swing at the tree with an ax. After 10 swings, the ax was replaced with two-man crosscut saw. At 9:13 a.m., modern technology took over, and the buzzing of chain saws began. By 9:50 a.m., a quiet crackling was heard. The tree leaned and fell slowly on the ground. Approximately 25 feet of the tree was cut off and the trunk cleaned.

At approximately 1,400 pounds, it was transported via truck and trailer to a grassy area between the Waimea Center and Waimea Community Education. Around 3:30 p.m., Hawaii Electric Light Co. voluntarily erected the tree, placing it in the 5-foot hole generously dug earlier by Goodfellow Brothers. The hole was then filled with gravel donated by West Hawaii Concrete.

The Waimea Community Association planned to decorate the tree with lights and a star. A tree lighting and caroling is scheduled from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday.

This event kicks off the town’s collection of new gifts and food donations for the Lokahi Giving Project, which helps Hawaii’s struggling families by providing them with life’s basic necessities, year round emergency assistance, and brighter holiday seasons. Attendees are asked to bring a donation. For more information, call Alvord at 896-2239.

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