The White House Christmas Tree Cut Wednesday, November 14; Avery County’s Larry Smith Provides Another Classic Example of The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

Published Thursday, November 15, 2018 at 10:10 am

Larry Smith and High County Press reporter Tim Gardner pose in front of the 2018 White House Christmas Tree.

By Tim Gardner

In 1988 the term “The Year of The Perfect Christmas Tree” originated in Avery County and became nationally famous. Thirty years later in 2018, the same term has become nationally famous in a different manner, yet in another of the most momentous happenings in the county’s 107-year history.

Avery County is the backdrop of the highly-popular “The Year of The Perfect Christmas Tree” children’s book written by local native, the late Gloria Houston. The book is a heart-touching story about a little girl and her mother carrying on in preparation for Christmas while her father is away at war. Since its publication in 1988, the book has become a holiday classic, reaching number one on the New York Times best-seller list with some 3.5 million copies in print.

“The Year of The Perfect Christmas Tree” also is aptly fitting Larry Smith of Mountain Top Fraser Fir Farm in Newland. That’s because he was awarded 2018 Grand Champion designation at the National Christmas Tree Association’s Christmas Tree Contest in Green Bay, Wisconsin, giving him the honor of providing this year’s official White House Christmas tree.

Larry Smith next to the 2018 White House Christmas Tree he planted as a seedling in 1996 with a spade.

On September 24, Smith welcomed special guests from the nation’s capital who were sent to his tree farm to select this year’s White House Christmas tree. White House Chief Usher Timothy Harleth and White House Superintendent of Grounds Dale Haney arrived to look over dozens of choice Fraser firs in order to select the perfect tree.

After much searching, measuring and consultation with Smith, Haney and Harleth selected a Fraser fir to be displayed in the Blue Room of the White House this Christmas season. This special tree had to fit precise and particular specifications to go on the display in one of the most historic rooms in America’s most famous building and residence.

Then on the morning of Wednesday, November 14, again before dozens of print, radio and photo journalists from many national, regional and local media outlets as well as family members, friends and government officials, Smith used a chain saw to cut down the perfect Frasier fir tree that Harleth and Haney had selected. Smith joked that when he planted the tree as a seedling he “used a spade to dig the hole it was placed in.”

It currently is 22 years old according to its rings, revealing that he planted it in 1996, and it weighs 800 pounds and is 19-and-a-half-feet tall.

Earlier that morning Smith hung a bow on his nationally-winning Fraser fir tree in preparations for the big cutting day. There are thousands of trees on his farm but little did he know this one would hold such a distinction.

One of the greatest days of this tree farmer’s life, looked like how many others start out in late fall in the North Carolina High County– cold and foggy. And even with an ice storm and snow showers predicted to hit later in the evening, the day was still among the prettiest in Smith’s life.

“This is one of the greatest days I’ve ever had. This whole process is like winning the Super Bowl,” Smith proclaimed.

Smith is a Christmas tree farmer much like his father and paternal grandfather were. Smith has worked on this same farm since he was a teenager.

And he reveled in the few seconds it took him to cut down the tree. But this incredible honor will last for generations to come.

“It has been a goal of mine for a long time to provide The White House Christmas tree,” Smith declared. “It’s the most prestigious place on earth to place a Christmas tree.”

The event opened with Smith conducting media interviews, followed by the Christmas tree’s cutting.   After the tree was wrapped and loaded onto a trailer by a crane, it was transported to the Mountain Glen Golf Course in Newland and loaded onto a tractor-and-trailer by members of the Avery County High School ROTC and Avery County Cooperative Extension Director Jerry Moody.

Prior to the tree’s last loading, three dignitaries, and the honored guest, offered remarks during a ceremony at the golf course clubhouse.

Jennifer Greene, Executive Director of the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association, headquartered in Boone, welcomed all attending and called it “a special day for the Larry Smith, his family, his friends and all of North Carolina.”

Greene added that “The Fraser fir is the Cadillac of Christmas trees and it’s wonderful that our beautiful mountains, which harvests such a vast amount of Christmas trees, will have one of our own displayed in The White House.”

North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler addressed the audience with complimentary comments that included: “The prettiest and best Christmas trees in the nation are in North Carolina. I always think it’s a mistake by those selecting a Christmas tree for The White House or any other place if it’s not from North Carolina.

Mountain Top Fraser Fir Farm owner Larry Smith (foreground) speaks to reporters shortly after he cut the Fraser fir tree that is the 2018 White House Christmas tree as his staff, family members, friends, state and local officials and various media members observe.

“Our great state harvests 4.3 million Christmas trees annually with sales of more than $85 million. Raising Christmas trees is a tremendous boost to our state economically and in prestige. And at the focal point of our Christmas tree industry this year is Larry Smith. I congratulate him for this milestone achievement of providing The White House Christmas tree.”

Moody remarked: “Christmas tree farming really took off in the 1950s in Avery County and approximately 11,000-plus of the county’s 17,000-plus population has connections in some fashion to the Christmas tree business. This industry has fed, clothed and educated many of our county’s residents for many years and it’s a business of which our county is most proud. And Larry Smith is an awesome example of that pride.”

Smith thanked those present for their attendance at the cutting and second loading ceremony and especially to his family, which includes his mother, Leona Smith, his three sons Stephen, Andrew and Wally, his fiancé, Beth Gibbons, his grandchildren Sam, Gabe, Brody, Carter and Tyler and daughter-in-laws Cristin, Jessica and Sara.   He also acknowledged some special friends and associates who have been instrumental in his Fraser fir farming career. He added that his only regret is that his father, Hermon, and maternal grandfather, Otts Smith, didn’t live long enough for them to enjoy this honor together.

Some of his family members, including his mother, are accompanying Smith to Washington, D.C.

The tree left Newland at approximately 1:00 p.m. and is on its way to be displayed in the Blue Room of the White House for the 96th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting. It will decorated by White House staff and volunteers and remain on display until several days after Christmas.

After it departed Newland, it was taken to Lenoir where Smith lived before moving to Avery County decades ago, and where he and his family also operate a Christmas tree stand. The tree will then be taken to Salisbury, NC Thursday morning (November 15th), and then on to Washington, D.C. It will arrive at The White House on Friday (November 16th). Then on Monday, November 19th will be the big ceremony when Smith will present First Lady Melania Trump with the Christmas tree for display in the White House Blue Room.

Since 1966, members of the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) have presented the official White House Christmas Tree for display in the Blue Room. Every other year the NCTA hosts a national tree contest at which growers, industry experts and consumers vote to select the Real Christmas Tree grower who will provide the official White House Christmas Tree and as well as one for the Vice President’s residence. To qualify for the national contest, growers must first win their state or regional competitions, so being named National Grand Champion is a significant achievement. 2018 marks the 53rd year a member from the National Christmas Tree Association has presented the official White House Christmas Tree.

This year marked the 13th time that a Christmas tree grown in North Carolina was chosen to be the National White House Christmas Tree. It’s also the third time a tree from Avery County was selected for the honor by the National Christmas Tree Association in the last 52 years

Kermit Johnson provided The White House Christmas tree in 1971 as did Bruce and Mike Lacey in 1990.

However, The White House Christmas tree has come from Avery County reportedly as far back as 1934. According to the Durham, NC Morning Herald, two balsam trees from Avery County were then “ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for the White House Christmas celebration.” One tree came from the property of O.B. Bear, and the other from Newland mayor A.W. Ray.

Smith also provided the first Christmas tree to former United States Vice President Dick Cheney after his residence was moved to the Washington, D.C.’s Naval Observatory from the Blair House following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Additionally, Smith is the tree grower who won the honor of providing the Christmas trees that stood in the Rotunda of the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh and in former Governor Pat McCrory’s office in 2015.

Larry Smith’s older brother, Lynn, who has his own Avery County tree-growing business, also has provided a Christmas tree for a top government official in 2015. The elder Smith grew the tree that decorated at the entrance to Raleigh’s Hawkins-Hartness House where Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest’s office is located.

Beau and Rusty Estes of Ashe County were the contest winners to provide a tree for Vice President Mike Pence’s residence for Christmas this year.

The Estes’ also provided a Fraser fir for the White House Blue Room in 2009 and 2012.

Pictures by Tim Gardner and Tim Singleton

 

Another well-known Avery County shrubbery man, Tim Singleton, poses by the 2018 White House Christmas Tree.

The massive 19-and-a-half-foot tall and 800 pound Frasier fir is hoisted into the air to be loaded at the Mountain Top Fraser Fir Farm with its final destination being the Blue Room of The White House.

The rings from the sample piece of the White House Christmas tree shows it is 22 years old.

Larry Smith saws off the extra piece of the Fraser fir’s base before press members so he can tell reveal its age

Before several reporters, Larry Smith counts the rings from a piece off the base of the Fraser fir White House Christmas tree to determine its age.

Larry Smith being interviewed by various press members after he cut the 2018 White House Christmas tree, which is ready for loading at his tree farm.

The massive Fraser fir tree leaves Larry Smith Mountain Top Fraser Fir Farm in Newland on its way to The White House.

Known for their hard work and expertise at their professional craft are the staff members of the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association who were called by many gathered at the White House Christmas Tree cutting and related ceremonies as “The Christmas Angels.” They include from left-to-right: Olivia Morton, Jennifer Greene and Dana Bango.

 

North Carolina Christmas Tree Association Director Jennifer Greene addresses the audience at the local White House Christmas Tree press conference held in the Mountain Glen Golf Course Clubhouse.

 

Standing alongside his fiancé, Beth Gibbons, 2018 National Christmas Tree Association Grand Champion Larry Smith speaks to the crowd at the Mountain Glen Golf Course Clubhouse in Newland shortly before his Fraser Fir was ready to leave for The White House. Smith will present the tree to United States First Lady Melania Trump for display in the Blue Room as the nation’s official Christmas tree.

Avery County High School ROTC members and Avery County Extension Director Jerry Moody load the Fraser fir Christmas tree onto a tractor-and-trailer to be transported to The White House in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, November 14.

 

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