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Trees of stories fill 2009 Festival of Trees


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SANDY -- A new forest has suddenly appeared at the south end of the Salt Lake Valley, and each tree in the annual Festival of Trees has a story.

The idea of paying tribute to a child who had become part of the Primary Children's Medical Center family began with a few families. Now, many people choose to tell stories of those they love and admire in Christmas tree decorations.

This year, 800 colorful, twinkling trees greet visitors at one of Utah's biggest charity events. Families, groups of friends or colleagues decorate with heartfelt care, many honoring loved ones.The message here is hope.

Born with spina bifida, Ammon Clark has undergone 34 surgeries. He inspired a group of young Latter-day Saint women to create a tree.

Another tree honors Olivia Dubell, who valiantly battled cancer a few years ago and is thriving.

"They chose the Grinch for the theme because his heart grew three times when he went through that experience, and they just felt like through service, your heart can change," explained festival volunteer Janalee Hallmark.

Not every tree has a story that begins at Primary Children's. There's one that is a tribute from a son to his mother.

Last April, Karin Vandenberg died in a hiking accident on Mount Olympus. Her 14-year-old son, Steve, wanted people to know of her beauty and love of nature.

"This is a way to remember them, to bring them back into our life -- especially at this time of year and keep that person in our thoughts and in our minds, and show and remind other people that this was a special person to this family," said Sharon Smith.

Visitors come by the thousands. They find beauty and remember the stories.

"I like how it tells memorials about people," 10-year-old Grace Edwards said.

Eleven-year-old Jacob Reynolds said he liked how "people are expressing their feelings by decorating trees."

The Festival of Trees is open at South Towne Expo Center in Sandy Wednesday until 10, then through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. All proceeds benefit those who need charity care at Primary Children's Medical Center.

E-mail: cmikita@ksl.com

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Carole Mikita

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