Morgan Park woman, 85, donates tree she planted 35 years ago to city for Millennium Park Christmas tree

Madeline Buckley, Chicago Tribune
·2 min read

In 1985, Catherine Townsend bought seeds to plant three blue spruce trees in the yard of her home, a two-flat, red brick building in Morgan Park.

The home had a fairly large lot, and Townsend, a gardener, filled it with plants and flowers. Two of the three trees ended up sprouting, and, through the years, grew to a towering 45 feet.

The twin spruces were a beloved part of her garden, adding a “touch of elegance,” to her yard, said Townsend, an 85-year-old retired Chicago Public Schools teacher.

As Townsend prepares to sell her home, one of her spruces will take on a new life as Millennium Park’s Christmas tree.

“They really are beautiful,” Townsend said of the spruces, though the sale of her longtime home is bittersweet.

The city will not have its annual lighting ceremony because of the COVID-19 pandemic but workers will drape Townsend’s tree with lights and hold a number of virtual holiday programs.

“We are extremely excited to be continuing our city’s beloved winter traditions this season in a safe and healthy way,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a news release.

The holiday virtual programming will begin at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at, while the tree will be lit in the park at Michigan Avenue and Washington Street from Nov. 20 to Jan. 7.

Townsend’s daughter, Sherri Mitchell, always thought one of the spruces would make a good Christmas tree for Chicago but she knew her mother would never want to cut them down.

“She loved her yard and they were a big part of the yard,” Mitchell said.

About four years ago, Townsend moved to an assisted living community but still couldn’t part with her home. Earlier this year, though, she decided it was time to put it up for sale.

Mitchell knew her family would likely have to cut down the spruce before selling the home, as it was growing too large for the yard. So when she saw the city was soliciting nominations for its annual Christmas tree, Mitchell and her mother entered it.

Now, they will get to see their tree twinkling grandly in Millennium Park — a moment that will be especially meaningful this year.

“We will not be gathering for Thanksgiving, and we will likely not be gathering for Christmas,” because of the increasing spread COVID-19 this fall, Mitchell said.

Instead, the family plans visit their tree in the park.

“They are going to take their mom to see that tree,” Townsend said, laughing.


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