Christmas trees aren’t just a magical part of Lyn Walther’s holiday season; they’re a year-round passion. She and her husband, Eric, own and operate Strawberry Hill Christmas Tree Farm, 794 U.S. Highway 40.
Despite the work of planting 1,000 new trees annually, mowing the 20 acres, pruning and shaping growing trees, and coping with the elements, Walther considers herself blessed to be part of people’s holiday joy.
Returning to Kansas to start a Christmas tree farm wasn’t in Walther’s plans. She and Eric met 60 years ago at Kansas City Junior College.
“He had a locker near a boy I was dating,” she says. “When my boyfriend couldn’t go a square dance with me, I asked Eric.”
They married in 1952 before their senior year at Central Missouri State College (now Central Missouri University) and traveled throughout the U.S. with their four sons through Eric’s Air Force assignments.
“We lived in 22 different houses in as many states, and I dreamed of some great places where we could settle down and retire,” she says.
After military retirement, Eric worked for TRW, and Walther was shocked when he was transferred to Lawrence.
“I wasn’t too happy to return to Kansas because it wasn’t exciting enough,” she says. “Turns out it’s the best place in the country.”
They purchased 20 acres on U.S. 40, intending to build an airstrip. When that didn’t work out they started a Christmas tree farm.
“I’ve always loved Christmas trees,” Walther says.
“When I was a child, Santa always brought our tree on Christmas Eve. My sister and I never saw it until Christmas morning. It was a magical time.”
She’s continued the same tradition.
“We still decorate our tree on Christmas Eve, but now we help Santa by putting the lights on during the day so he doesn’t have to spend so much time late at night,” she says.
In 1977, they planted 500 Scotch and Austrian pines. Their son Mitch named the farm after the many strawberries growing along the property’s edge. It takes seven years to get trees ready for sale; they cut and sold their first in 1984.
“Each tree requires careful planting. Roots must be perfectly straight and moist. If they’re allowed to dry for even minutes, the tree will die,” Walther says.
Grass between trees requires precision mowing. Every tree needs annual shearing to maintain the traditional shape, and the land must be kept moist.
“Nurturing the trees is a year-round job, but it’s fun and worthwhile,” Walther says.
“We get to hear so many Christmas stories and see and share in the excitement as people select and buy their tree, especially when they’re buying their first real tree. We’ve watched families grow, and now the children whose parents first brought them here are coming with their own children.
“There’s an excitement in the air as people search for their tree, go on the hayride, and have hot spiced cider and black and white cookies,” she adds. “It’s really fun to be part of that. It’s why we do it.”
— Eileen Roddy can be reached at email@example.com.