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McKeesport's Festival of Trees ignites holiday spirit

Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News - McKeesport Art Group members creatively adorned their tree, 'The Games People Play,' with game boards and playing cards.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News</em></div>McKeesport Art Group members creatively adorned their tree, 'The Games People Play,' with game boards and playing cards.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News - Braving the rain to light an outdoor tree during the Festival of Trees opening ceremony on Thursday evening are Salute to Santa royalty, from left, queen Jessica Washowich and princess Nayelle Williams.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News</em></div>Braving the rain to light an outdoor tree during the Festival of Trees opening ceremony on Thursday evening are Salute to Santa royalty, from left, queen Jessica Washowich and princess Nayelle Williams.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News - Santa Claus shakes hands with Marissa Paterra of White Oak and Madeline Cherepko of McKeesport. The girls greeted Santa after singing Christmas carols with Brownie Troop 58112.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News</em></div>Santa Claus shakes hands with Marissa Paterra of White Oak and Madeline Cherepko of McKeesport. The girls greeted Santa after singing Christmas carols with Brownie Troop 58112.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News - West Mifflin Area High School's Titan Chorus and Show Choir opened the Festival of Trees with a selection of holiday songs.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News</em></div>West Mifflin Area High School's Titan Chorus and Show Choir opened the Festival of Trees with a selection of holiday songs.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News - With help from her mother Jackie Buhaly, 9-month-old Nova Thomas of McKeesport browses her first Festival of Trees in awe of the lights and sparkling ornaments.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News</em></div>With help from her mother Jackie Buhaly, 9-month-old Nova Thomas of McKeesport browses her first Festival of Trees in awe of the lights and sparkling ornaments.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News - McKeesport Ambulance Rescue Service decorated its 'Candy Land' tree with sweet treats, including ambulance-shaped cookies.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News</em></div>McKeesport Ambulance Rescue Service decorated its 'Candy Land' tree with sweet treats, including ambulance-shaped cookies.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News - Twin Rivers second-graders, from left, Jordan Benjamin, Colton Kotouch, Jocelyn Kovacs and Aiden Cline look for ornaments they helped to design in anticipation of their new McKeesport Area school, set to open in January.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News</em></div>Twin Rivers second-graders, from left, Jordan Benjamin, Colton Kotouch, Jocelyn Kovacs and Aiden Cline look for ornaments they helped to design in anticipation of their new McKeesport Area school, set to open in January.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News - Following its 'Firefighters' Christmas' theme, McKeesport Fire Department displayed a dalmatian and fire truck below its entry.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News</em></div>Following its 'Firefighters' Christmas' theme, McKeesport Fire Department displayed a dalmatian and fire truck below its entry.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News - Francis McClure Intermediate School presented a Spanish language tree that featured hand-crafted ornaments, including Dia de los Meurtos masks.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News</em></div>Francis McClure Intermediate School presented a Spanish language tree that featured hand-crafted ornaments, including Dia de los Meurtos masks.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News - Allegheny Intermediate Unit's McKeesport Family Center decorated a family of trees to represent the families it serves.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News</em></div>Allegheny Intermediate Unit's McKeesport Family Center decorated a family of trees to represent the families it serves.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News - JoAnne Wells of the Semper Fidelis club serves a peanut butter blossom to Ainsley Schier, 2, of White Oak.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News</em></div>JoAnne Wells of the Semper Fidelis club serves a peanut butter blossom to Ainsley Schier, 2, of White Oak.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News - McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center board member Duane Junker and executive director Michelle Wardle admire handmade school house ornaments that are featured on one of the center's Festival of Trees entries.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News</em></div>McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center board member Duane Junker and executive director Michelle Wardle admire handmade school house ornaments that are featured on one of the center's Festival of Trees entries.

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Festival of Trees

Jacob Woll PavilionRenziehausen Park

Through Monday, noon-9 p.m.

Admission: $2 for adults; children 12 and younger admitted at no charge with donation of one non-perishable food item.

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Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 5:16 a.m.
 

A rainy December night could not dampen the holiday spirit at the opening of McKeesport's 28th annual Festival of Trees.

The reigning royalty from the city's Salute to Santa Parade, queen Jessica Washowich and princess Nayelle Williams, lit the ceremonial tree outside Jacob Woll Pavilion to begin the celebration on Thursday.

“It's a great experience,” Jessica, 16, said. “I've been coming to Festival of Trees for so many years now, and I remember looking up to the queen and princesses when I was younger. They were role models to me. I just thought it was amazing to see an actual queen and princess in real life.”

“It was an honor and also fun just to be in the midst of people,” Nayelle, 15, said. “It was cute with the little kids singing. It shows McKeesport can have fun.”

Nayelle's first visit to Festival of Trees was Thursday.

“It was really nice,” she said. “It's a fun way to bring McKeesport together that's not boring. My personal favorite (tree) is the Future Is Mine because that's my club, but they were all really nice and creative.”

“I think there are more trees than in the past years, and I think people are getting more into it as the years go on,” Jessica said. “All the trees are always so beautiful. There's always something new to look at.”

Festival co-chairs are Pat Harris and Cheryl Cotter.

“We have a lot of small groups and schools today,” Harris said. “I think (the turnout) will be bigger than last year because we have 82 trees, which is the most we've had in a decade. We have a lot of new people this year. South Allegheny has nine entries from the school district.”

City parks and recreation director Jim Brown said this is the biggest Festival of Trees of the 13 in which he has been involved.

“We're getting the word out there more, and advertising,” Brown said. “Year after year people just continue to come. I'm hoping the people come out and see the beautiful trees. It would be a great thing to do this weekend.”

Harris said letters are sent to past festival participants in October, and the festival committee receives a surge of applications around Thanksgiving.

Mayor Michael Cherepko attended opening night with his family.

“I always take these opportunities to commend the rec board, council people who volunteer and other volunteers,” Cherepko said. “It truly makes McKeesport special. It becomes a tradition for many families.”

November's parade was the city's official commencement of the holidays. The Festival of Trees continues through Monday.

“When you look at the four words we have as our message campaign — respect, love, dignity, hope — I think this is the part where you see love,” Cherepko said. “Holiday time should be family time. This is where we all need to be thankful for our health and the blessings that we have, and to share our time with our loved ones.”

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1965, or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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