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Holiday Tree Festival helps family thank hospital

11/15/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Phyllis Strickler, of Norton, said she loves participating in the Holiday Tree Festival to thank Akron Children’s Hospital for helping her grandson, Samuel, shown above with her in front of their 2011 festival entry, get off to a healthy start.
Photo courtesy of Phyllis Strickler
Among the items available in a special raffle at the Holiday Tree Festival is the Circus Train Model Railroad, which was donated and decorated by Robert and Karen Klein and Lorinda and Dave Weninger in memory of Charlie Greer, a carpenter who made a train table for the fundraiser for many years.
Photos: Ken Crisafi
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Phyllis Strickler is no stranger to Akron Children’s Hospital.

The Ronald McDonald House at Akron Children’s Hospital submitted the “Holiday Splendor” tree, which was decorated by Donna Grigas, of Copley.
“It’s Time for Christmas” is the tree decorated by Jan Lonsdale for the Harwick Standard Distributor Corp.
The “I Promise” tree, decorated by Taylor McLaughlin, was donated by the LeBron James Family Foundation. Its theme reinforces the importance of school.
Jill Pangas, of Copley, is shown above as she puts the finishing touches on “The Joy of Christmas,” the tree donated by Stan’s Towing for this year’s festival.
Photos: Ken Crisafi
The Norton resident, a native of West Akron, said she volunteered there as a teenager. Later, as a mother, her firstborn son was there after being born prematurely.

Now, the grandmother of five is in her third year as a participant in the hospital’s Holiday Tree Festival as a way to give back to the place that helped give her premature grandson, Samuel Strickler, a good start in life.

“He is now 6, but he was born two months early, and his mother had some pretty serious physical problems,” Strickler said. “He was in the NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] for a few weeks.”

She said the family is fortunate that Samuel’s stay was not as long as some infants and he has been free of health problems.

“He is a bright, wonderful, sensitive boy,” she said of Samuel, whose parents are Greg and Rachael Strickler, of Barberton. “He always helps with the tree.”

This year is the third year in a row that Strickler is participating in the festival by providing a themed tree. The first year she used an angel theme and last year a cupcake theme.

This year, influenced by Samuel, the theme of the tree is “Naturally It’s Christmas.”

“For whatever reason, he got into the idea of berries and pumpkins and picking them,” Strickler said. “We’ll have that kind of stuff on the tree with gingerbread men and fun, natural Christmas stuff.”

Strickler said she has enjoyed visiting the tree festival since it started 30 years ago.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s not like people just throw their work together. Everyone goes to 150 percent effort to make this gorgeous item that they hope will sell. It really gets you in the holiday sprit, expresses gratitude and thanks and generosity. It’s nice to feel all that.”

The Holiday Tree Festival features about 300 decorated trees, wreaths and miniatures donated by local families, businesses and organizations. They will be displayed at the John S. Knight Center, 77 E. Mill St., Nov. 17-25. All of the donated items are available for purchase.

Since it was established in 1982, the event has raised nearly $4 million for Akron Children’s Hospital, according to organizers.

The free event will be open to the public Mondays through Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22, from 2 to 6 p.m.

In addition, there are several special events taking place throughout the festival:

• The event will open to the public with the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and Kids’ Day Nov. 17 at 10 a.m. A “miracle child” from the hospital will cut the ribbon to open the festival. Children’s activities, such as face painting, will be offered, as well as the chance to meet members of the Doggie Brigade. Music will be provided by Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts students.

• Additional musical acts during the festival will include the Litchfield Middle School Orchestra Nov. 19 at 1 p.m., Walsh Jesuit High School Ensembles Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. and the Bath Brass Band Nov. 23 at 8 p.m.

For more information, call 330-543-8424 or go to www.akronchildrens.org.

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