Historic Mount Pulaski Courthouse comes alive with Christmas festivities
Highlights of the evening include Tree lighting ceremony, Christmas Carolers, Holly Jolly Christmas Tree Auction

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[December 05, 2017] 

The mild December 1st temperatures allowed for a nice crowd to gather on the Mount Pulaski Courthouse lawn Friday evening to take part in a tree lighting ceremony and enjoy Christmas music.

The festivities began with a tree lighting ceremony in the gazebo on the courthouse lawn as local Christmas carolers sang “Oh Christmas Tree” before breaking out into other festive tunes.

Community members were invited to add ornaments to the town Christmas tree Friday evening. Here someone has placed an ornament with Micah Wakeman’s picture in it. Wakeman was killed in a farming accident this summer and his death leaves a void felt by many in the community.

Members of the Mount Pulaski community were also invited to decorate the tree with their own personal ornaments and they did so while the carolers sang “Joy to the World,” “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” “Deck the Halls,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Jingle Bells.” The carolers ended the singing with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and the crowd then moved the party inside to the Mount Pulaski Courthouse.

Inside the courthouse, folks were greeted with the usual smiling faces of Norene Smith, Barbara Stroud-Borth, Jamie Jones, Amanda Doherty, Renee Martin and Julie Wubben, all who devote a ton of time and energy into preserving the town’s history and promoting community involvement.

Food and fun are always at the top of the list for these fine community members and they did not disappoint Friday evening. Cookies and drinks were served as folks picked up their bid numbers and headed upstairs to the courtroom where Abraham Lincoln once practiced law.

Once everyone was settled upstairs, Renee Martin, one of the directors of the Courthouse Foundation, welcomed everyone to the Holly Jolly Christmas Tree Auction.

“As many of you know, our foundation was founded in 2011, after realizing the need to bring the Courthouse back to its former glory,” said Martin.

“Since that time, many funds have been raised to renovate the Courthouse. We have done many little projects, but now we are onto the bigger ones,” she said.

“Project one, we fixed the broken beam and put on a new roof. Project two, starting on the east wall, we will be taking all the old paint off and tuck pointing it. The walls are three layers of brick thick. The structure is sound. We just need to fix the outside brick layer and we will wait to see if it solves our moisture problem. This process will take a couple years to see results before we start another wall.”

“It’s been a long road, but it’s people like you, here this evening, that keep us going and give us hope that one day, the Courthouse will be completely renovated. So, thank you,” said Martin, smiling at the crowd.

Martin continued, “It’s no lie, that the Courthouse holds a special place in my heart and in many of yours, but many people look at this building as just that, a building. But I see our town’s history. I see Abraham Lincoln trying cases here and we get to walk on the same floor he did. I see our ancestors, working together to build this Courthouse and I look around the room today and I see the same thing. We are all here helping preserve our town’s history.”

Renee Martin also recognized Tom Martin in the crowd. “Tom originally helped start and has molded the Courthouse Foundation into the organization it is today. We are saddened that Tom will be taking a well-deserved break from the board, but he has agreed to stay on as the liaison between the State of Illinois and the Foundation and will be at our annual meeting in January to help ease the transition.”

“Tom has put in so many hours to ensure the success of the foundation and our town,” Renee Martin continued. “I would like to thank Tom for not only being a mentor to many of us, but our friend.”

Renee Martin had a few more thank you’s to announce before turning auctioneer Mike Maske loose with the eager crowd of bidders. “On behalf of the Courthouse Foundation, we would thank you for coming this evening, and we would like to thank all the folks that decorated the trees,” said Renee Martin. “A big thanks to Jamie Jones for being our event hostess this evening. Jamie has been on the board a little over a year. She is ambitious, has great ideas and is a great fit to our team.”

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With no further ado the bidding began. A total of 41 trees that had been decorated and donated by local businesses, residents and even students of Mount Pulaski schools were immediately up for public auction. All ages were bidding on the beautiful and very creative masterpieces. Little Eva Leonard of Mount Pulaski was the winning bidder of the Johnson’s True Value tree that was decorated by Rene Hubal. Leonard’s bid of $80 beat out the competition. Another young community member paid $110 for the MPGS Student Council tree. Some local families were very generous in purchasing more than one tree, with the money going to such a good cause.

The grand finale of the evening featured tree number 41, which also turned out to be voted the Fan Favorite. This gorgeous tree brought in a whopping $350 and George Allspach was the winning bidder. Tree number 41 also came with a bit of history that had everyone intrigued and wanting to take it home.

First, this Fan Favorite tree was donated by the Mount Pulaski Courthouse Foundation and it was uniquely decorated by Jane Pharis. Second, the tree had some fascinating history behind it and Pharis got a little emotional telling the crowd her personal connection to the tree. “The handmade quilt squares hanging on the tree were made by my aunt, Kathleen Ketcham,” said Pharis.

The late Kathleen Ketcham of Lincoln was the great-great granddaughter of Mentor Graham, who once taught Abraham Lincoln, according to Pharis. “Mentor Graham was Abraham Lincoln’s instructor. It was when Abraham was 21 years old at New Salem and they would meet at church or on the corner and that way he would learn from him, not necessarily the reading and writing in his earlier years, but as he was older,” explained Pharis. Pharis’ mom is Jean Connelly of Mount Pulaski and Kathleen was Jean’s sister.

Everything on tree number 41 was handmade. Pharis had even dried oranges and used them to decorate the tree. In addition, the base of the tree was actually a carefully crafted wooden replica of the Mount Pulaski Courthouse. The Allspach family will have something to treasure for years to come.

Shirley Molt and Tracy Pulliam were also announced as the winners of the Christmas Tree drawings following the auction.

Renee Martin was pleased to report the Courthouse Foundation raised around $4,000 from the Holly Jolly Christmas Tree Auction Friday evening and then the organization posted a #GivingTuesday fundraiser online earlier in the week that brought in a little over $1,000. While Martin said the last Christmas tree auction was held four years ago, the foundation is unsure at this time if the event will be a yearly event or every other year event. Martin did confirm this news, however. “We definitely consider this event one of our favorites and we love having all the trees on display at the courthouse. It definitely gets folks in the Christmas spirit.”

Indeed it does. Equally as important was the fact that the town was brought together for the evening and the town square was buzzing with activity. There was not a parking place to be found on the town square by 6:30 p.m. and the local eateries all over town were packed with people.

This event was a great way to kick off the Christmas season in a small town and the folks of Mount Pulaski are not finished yet.

This coming Saturday the Polar Express event is in town for the youth and the community will host the 2nd Annual Lighted Christmas Parade beginning at 6 p.m. The parade will travel around the town square and will be highlighted with an appearance by Santa Claus at the Mount Pulaski Courthouse. Children are invited to visit Santa at the courthouse immediately following the parade and refreshments will be served.

[Teena Lowery]

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