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Freshened digs brighten Festival of Trees

Every year for the past decade, the Festival of Trees has become the way Paula Shank of Medford kicks off her birthday, as well as her holiday season.

Joined by friends Pam Fehl and Gwynn Whalen, at one time Shank's co-workers, the trio savored their unique tradition Saturday with oohs and aahs at new LED spotlights and oversized star-shaped lights that transformed the Medford Armory into something of a Silent Night, despite being the middle of the day.

Whalen said the festival gives her a reason to "start the holidays on a positive note," and motivates her to start decorating when she gets home.

 Along with those fresh changes on the ceiling came a rearranged layout on the ground.

"We're all turned around," Fehl joked.

The trio, there to meet a fourth friend who volunteers for Providence, were among the 15,000 expected to visit the 26th annual holiday fundraiser from Friday through Sunday.

A newly renovated Medford Armory meant new ways to create holiday magic from above, but getting there required organizers to overcome logistics challenges on the floor to fit the dozens of themed holiday decorations created by "literally hundreds" of volunteer designers, according to Providence Community Health Foundation executive director Katie Hutchinson.

Hutchinson said they've had "record crowds so far," to see the 32 large decorated trees, 15 mini trees, 20 tabletop trees and 20 wreaths decorators came up with.

The festive trees and holiday decorations brought in more than $80,000 in an auction gala Wednesday. The money will go to Providence Foundation organizations such as the Swindells Resource Center, which serves special-needs kids. The total amount raised won't be known until revenues from the three-day Armory event are added in. It continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

A 90-degree shift in where organizers put the main stage was "the first domino in a series of changes," Hutchinson said.

New hanging regulations meant that features and lighting that at one time hung from the ceiling now had to be built from the floor. It was a challenge for Hutchinson and her staff of three, but she attributed their success to dozens of volunteers who bolstered them.

She said the challenges were minor compared to last year, when the armory was in the thick of a multimillion-dollar remodeling project. 

"We just roll with the punches," Hutchinson recalled, adding that she remembers attendees being understanding as they navigated dust covers and construction.

Hutchinson said the expanded restroom facilities are particularly welcome.

"It was hard to have three stalls and 15,000 people," Hutchinson said.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Lucy Hidde, 5, of Medford, was in costume for a performance with Miss Diana'a School of Ballet at the Providence Festival of Trees. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]
Josephyne Stidham, 3 months, of Medford, gets ready for a nap during the Providence Festival of Trees at the Medford Armory on Saturday. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]