Kids wearing green velvet skirts and little red sweaters surrounded the Wisconsin state Capitol’s marble rotunda Friday as state residents flocked to the 30-foot holiday tree to celebrate Gov. Tony Evers’ annual Tree Lighting Ceremony.
While attendees positioned their phones at different angles, Elmer Moore, executive director of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, gave a warm introduction to celebrate the tree’s theme: 175 years of Wisconsinites.
“Today, we're celebrating those individuals whose families and communities have played a role in building the fabric of our state,” Moore said.
Moore said this year is particularly special because the Balsam fir tree has a story: Its name is “Mr. Frank.”
Mr. Frank is a memorial to Frank Magnus, a World War II Army Veteran who returned to Harrison, Wisconsin where he worked as a dairy farmer until he and his wife Grace moved to Rhinelander in 2003, according to the Wisconsin State Farmer.
After Magnus’ death in 2005, his family honored his death by planting the fir tree in their yard. Marge Van Heuklon, the current homeowner, chose to donate the tree for the light celebration.
“It’s wonderful to have both families here to have an opportunity to celebrate Frank's memory in this way. It's the people who we wanted to be on the center stage in the recognition of this year's theme 175 years or Wisconsinites,” Evers said.
The tree is illuminated by 2,000 energy-saving multicolored LED lights, according to a sign in the rotunda.
“You'll also find heartfelt ornaments that honor teachers and caregivers, librarians, community leaders, parents and grandparents that make Wisconsin,” Evers said.
The Wauwatosa East High School Orchestra and the University of Wisconsin-Madison men’s acapella group The Madhatters gave live performances before and during the ceremony.
"It's always been the people of Wisconsin who make this state special," Evers said.
The tree will be on display through Sunday, Jan. 7.
Ava Menkes is the state news editor at The Daily Cardinal. She has covered multiple stories about Wisconsin politics and written in-depth about nurses unions and youth voter turnout. Follow her on Twitter at @AvaMenkes.