WATERVILLE – A chorus ohs and ahs filled the main floor of the Hathaway Creative Center Saturday as onlookers walked through rows of decorated trees put together by local businesses and organizations at the first ever Sukeforth Festival of Trees.

“I’m amazed and happy to see how this is going, I did not expect this turnout for the first year,” Gary Poulin, a member of the Festival of Trees committee said. “If you stand and watch for just a little bit, you see nothing but smiles on people’s faces. The excitement that the kids are having too is really great to see.”

Event organizers said about 700 people attended the festival’s opening night Friday. The festival features 59 artificial trees that have been donated and decorated by area businesses, organizations, and individuals. Admission to view the trees is $2 per ticket, but children under the age of 12 can be admitted with no cost. The event is also open next weekend.

Tree-makers also donated gifts to be placed underneath their trees. Event goers can buy raffle tickets for 50 cents each for a chance to win one or more of the decorated trees and the presents that were donated with the tree.

The festival is hosted by Doug and Rita Sukeforth, and proceeds from both weekends will be donated to Spectrum Generations’ Meals on Wheels programs, Hospice Volunteers of Waterville Area, and House in the Woods – a retreat for military members and their families in Carmel.

In previous years the Sukeforth family hosted a pig roast in Solon as their signature charity event but decided this year to replace the September roast with an event that would have a wider reach.

“There’s no question about it, this event is family (oriented). It’s all about family and kids, the holidays and Santa,” Doug Sukeforth said.

With each of the trees decorated with a different theme, the festival has something to interest everyone. From hunting trees, balloon trees, movie trees, and even pet-themed trees, no two displays are the same.

The Waterville Opera House’s tree was made from a mannequin wearing an elaborate white dress with white tree limbs as the skirt. The presents that accompanied each tree did not have to match the theme of the tree but often did, with the Opera House’s tree gifting makeup sets and a karaoke machine.

For the adults only, the Brophy Family donated a wine-themed tree adorned with grape clusters, a garland made of corks, and deep red ornaments. With the tree comes several bottles of wine and a storage rack.

The attention of excited children was torn between flashy trees and elaborate present displays.

Spectrum Generations’ tree caught the attention of 7-year-old Pete Vicneire, who brought his own money to fund the purchase of his raffle tickets, which he was carefully reserving for the trees with the best presents. The gift array under Spectrum’s tree featured a bicycle, a Kindle Fire, toy trucks, board games, two large stuffed animals and other small trinkets.

“This whole festival is very family-centric. It’s a really great idea, they have a little bit of something for everybody,” Pete’s mother, Hollye Dunphy said, as Pete pulled her in the direction of another tree he was eager to use a raffle ticket on.

The raffle winners for each of the 59 trees will be drawn on Nov. 29, the last day of the festival. They will receive the presents that accompanied the tree as well as the decorated tree itself.

Children who attend the festival will be able to meet and get their picture taken with Santa Claus. Santa’s Snack Shack will also be open during the festival and will feature soup, hot dogs, cider, and other items.

Over the two weekends. Poulin is expecting more than 10,000 people to visit the festival. Sunday, and again next Sunday, it’s open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Friday it will be open form 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and next Saturday, it will be open later than 7 p.m. to accommodate viewing after the Parade of Lights being held at 6 p.m. on Maine Street in Waterville.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

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