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Archive for Tuesday, November 28, 2006

White House Christmas tree arrives from Pennsylvania

November 28, 2006

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— For all that Francis and Margaret Botek have to be proud of - take their three children and eight grandchildren, for starters - it was an 18 1/2-foot tree that brought the family to the White House and a meeting with the first lady on Monday.

But what a tree it is.

Handpicked from the Boteks' Mahoning Township, Pa., farm by the White House's chief usher six weeks ago, the Douglas fir arrived Monday morning on a horse-drawn wagon at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., with six of the Boteks' grandchildren in tow. It will spend the next several weeks in the Blue Room as the official White House Christmas tree.

"I don't think there is a greater honor in growing trees than this," said 67-year-old Francis Botek, standing outside the West Wing after he and his family joined first lady Laura Bush inside for apple cider and cookies. "I never thought this would happen."

A half-hour earlier, in a short ceremony beside the White House's front lawn, Bush thanked the Boteks for bringing the tree.

"I'm so thrilled and honored that you all would donate a tree to the White House this season," said Bush, whose husband was on his way to Eastern Europe. "Thank you for your long interest in growing trees."

She then escorted the family inside, where the Boteks said they talked about family and children as six of their grandchildren - two stayed home in Pennsylvania - played with the Bushes' two dogs.

"She really makes you feel at home," Francis Botek said. The family planned to tour the White House in the afternoon before returning to Carbon County.

It would be the end of a journey that began last year, when at their son's urging, the Boteks entered their farm in a state competition. A win in the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association contest in January earned them the right to compete at the national level in Portland, Ore., in mid-August.

With their great green hope tied in the back of their motor home and the thermostat set at 68 degrees to preserve the tree, the Boteks trekked across the country three months ago and won the highest tribute a Christmas tree grower can get: grand champion of the National Christmas Tree Contest and, with it, the honor of having a tree displayed in the White House's Blue Room.

The timing couldn't have been better. The Boteks, who opened their farm in 1964, soon plan to hand off control of Crystal Spring Tree Farm to their son Chris.

The 200-acre farm produces 15 species of trees and has grown its fair share of prominent display trees. This year alone, the farm sent about 35 trees to Harrisburg, Pa., to be displayed in the Capitol. Two other trees from the farm are planned to go inside the White House - one in the Oval Office, the other in the private residence - as part of the Boteks' national prize.

This is the sixth time in the competition's 40-year history that a tree from Pennsylvania won the top prize, which is handed out by the National Christmas Tree Association.

None, though, has been sweeter for the Boteks.

"My parents have worked their whole lives (growing trees) ... and now we're in the White House," said Chris Botek, who will appear on "The Martha Stewart Show" with his mother Wednesday to discuss tips for caring for Christmas trees. "It doesn't get too much better than that."

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