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McKeesport's Festival of Trees ignites holiday spirit

| Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 2:01 p.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