Governor’s Christmas tree has Lawrence roots

Mitchell Walther, left and Mike Richardson, who both work at the Strawberry Hill Christmas Tree Farm west of Lawrence, carry out a tree headed to the governor's mansion on Friday, November 16, 2007.

Eric Walther and his son, Mitchell Walther, cut down this year's Christmas tree for the governor's mansion in Topeka. The owners of the Strawberry Hill Christmas Tree Farm, just west of Lawrence, chose a 10-year-old, 9-foot Scotch pine for Gov. Sebelius' home.

A Lawrence tree will adorn the governor’s mansion this holiday season.

Eric and Lyn Walther, owners of Strawberry Hill Christmas Tree Farm just west of Lawrence, were thrilled to be able to pick out and supply a tree for Cedar Crest.

“This is the happiest time of year for us,” Eric Walther said.

The Walthers perused their 13-acre farm and selected one from the 9,000 trees. It was a 10-year-old, 9-foot Scotch pine that caught their eyes.

“It was just a gorgeous tree. It was like, ‘I’m waiting here for you to pick me out,’ so that’s what we did,” Lyn Walther said.

Just before 10 a.m. Friday, they used a handsaw to cut down the tree, shook out any loose needles, bagged it and delivered the evergreen to the governor. Tied with a red bow, it arrived at Cedar Crest early Friday afternoon by horse-drawn carriage.

“I think it’s a really neat, old-fashioned tradition,” Lyn Walther said.

Although they’ve operated the cut-your-own tree farm for more than 20 years, this was the first time that the Walthers groomed one for the governor.

Every year, the Kansas Christmas Tree Growers Association selects a different member to provide the governor’s tree. Susan Grelinger, secretary for the association, said she was glad the Walthers were recognized after their decades in the business.

“Once you get it in your blood, you sort of stick it out,” said Grelinger, an owner of Windy Knoll Tree Farm near Derby. “Not a lot of people are willing to take it on because it’s a lot of hard work.”

But for the Walthers, it’s a labor of love and a tradition they brought here from their time living on the East Coast.

“We went to several Christmas tree farms with our four boys, and the kids just loved it,” Eric Walther said. “At one time I thought I sold trees, but the reality is we allow people to have a memorable family experience.”

Now, they can add the Sebelius family to their list of satisfied customers.