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Tree-lighting added to McKeesport's opening night

| Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, 4:42 a.m.
After arriving on a McKeesport fire truck, Santa joined members of Daisy Troop 58112 as they sang Christmas carols for the Festival of Trees crowd during Thursday's opening ceremony.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
After arriving on a McKeesport fire truck, Santa joined members of Daisy Troop 58112 as they sang Christmas carols for the Festival of Trees crowd during Thursday's opening ceremony. Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
During Thursday's Festival of Trees opening ceremony, Salute to Santa queen Sarah Roka and princess Maia Rhodes join Mayor Michael Cherepko in lighting the community tree in Renziehausen Park.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
During Thursday's Festival of Trees opening ceremony, Salute to Santa queen Sarah Roka and princess Maia Rhodes join Mayor Michael Cherepko in lighting the community tree in Renziehausen Park. Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Girl Scouts from Daisy Troop 58112, from left, Madison Vereb, Isabella Wanless and Paige Mathews look at their '100 Years of Making the World a Better Place' tree during the opening night of McKeesport's 27th annual Festival of Trees on Thursday.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Girl Scouts from Daisy Troop 58112, from left, Madison Vereb, Isabella Wanless and Paige Mathews look at their '100 Years of Making the World a Better Place' tree during the opening night of McKeesport's 27th annual Festival of Trees on Thursday. Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News

The Festival of Trees opened with an outdoor tree-lighting ceremony as Santa rode into Renziehausen Park on a McKeesport fire truck.

“Welcome to the 27th annual Festival of Trees and our very first tree-lighting ceremony,” Mayor Michael Cherepko said Thursday, outside the Jacob Woll Pavilion. “A few weeks ago, we hosted a holiday parade to kick off the holiday season in McKeesport. We have with us today our queen and princess, who were crowned that day.”

As festival-goers awaited the arrival of Santa Claus, the city's Salute to Santa queen Sarah Roka, representing the Joey-O Foundation for Autism Awareness, and princess Maia Rhodes, representing the NAACP McKeesport Unit, lit a tree in Renziehausen Park with Girl Scouts from Daisy Troop 58112 leading the crowd in Christmas carols.

Girl Scout Elizabeth Swanger, whose family enjoys Christmas traditions nearly year round, said she was thrilled to be part of Thursday's program and the festival as a whole.

“You get to decorate a tree,” she said. “That's the best part.”

Attendees and city officials agreed the tree-lighting ceremony was a fitting way to open the festival.

“This is a community tree, and it highlights the importance of getting out and spending the holiday season together,” recreation board member Cheryl Cotter said.

McKeesport recreation director Jim Brown said it was exciting to kick off the festival with something new.

“It's a great idea,” Brown said. “This is something that we should have started sooner. It's a different way to get people involved in such a great event. We have more trees than ever this year, and they're all so pretty.”

With nearly 80 trees on display, the Festival of Trees will continue through Monday from noon to 9 p.m. Santa will be on-site each day from 12:30-4:30 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Admission is $2 for adults, and children attend at no charge with the donation of a canned good.

“With such a slow economy, the Festival of Trees is a good way to lift your spirits,” chairwoman Pat Harris said. “We've had so many people here today, so many children. There were more than 100 students from the schools here before 5:30.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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