By Tim Gardner
On a brisk and foggy autumn morning Monday, September 24, Avery County Christmas tree grower Larry Smith welcomed special guests from the nation’s capital who were sent to his Mountain Top Fraser Fir farm to select the 2018 White House Christmas tree. White House Chief Usher Timothy Harleth and White House Superintendent of Grounds, Dale Haney, arrived at the appointed field in Newland to look over dozens of choice firs in order to select the perfect tree.
Last summer, Smith was named Grand Champion in the National Christmas Tree Association’s Christmas tree contest. With this award, came the honor of presenting a Christmas tree to the White House. And Smith is celebrating his win, following four prior attempts to provide a tree to the White House.
After much searching, measuring and consultation with between Haney and Harleth, they selected a 19 ½ foot tall 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.
The selected tree will be harvested on Wednesday, November 14, 2018. Smith then will travel to Washington, D.C. and present First Lady Melania Trump with a Real Fraser Fir Christmas Tree for display in the White House Blue Room on November 19, 2018.
A ceremony on the lawn of Smith’s Jaynes Road residence was held immediately before the White House Christmas Tree was chosen.
“I feel as though I have finally won the Super Bowl as it’s one of the greatest honors of my life to represent the Christmas tree industry by providing the Official White House Christmas Tree in 2018,” an emotional Smith told the audience of approximately 75.
The host and honored guest thanked those present for their attendance at the event 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 as that his father, Hermon, and maternal grandfather, Otts Smith, didn’t live long enough for them to enjoy this honor together.
Five other dignitaries, including Harleth, also offered remarks during the ceremony.
Tim O’Connor, Executive Director of the National Christmas Tree Association in Littleton, Colorado commented: “This is a big day for Avery County, for Larry Smith, for his family and for the entire Christmas tree industry nationwide. The selection of the White House Christmas Tree is a major part for the celebration of Christmas in the United States of America.”
Jennifer Greene, Executive Director of the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association, headquartered in Boone, told an audience of approximately 75 gathered that Smith’s achievement of being chosen to provide the White House Christmas tree is of “epic proportions” and that “North Carolina Christmas tree growers harvest approximately 4.3 million trees annually and produces more than 20 percent of the real Christmas trees grown in the nation.”
Former Avery County Cooperative Extension Service technician Doug Hundley commended Smith for his “love of Avery County and our great country” and called him a “great steward of the entire Christmas Tree industry.”
Tommy Burleson, a basketball star from Avery County, who played on an undefeated team and another that won the National Championship at North Carolina State University in the early 1970s and later for several National Basketball Association (NBA) teams, said Smith is to be “congratulated by all his fellow-Avery Countians for putting the County in such a positive national spotlight.”
Burleson, who also is a minister of the Gospel, offered prayer after the selection of the White House Christmas tree.
Harleth thanked Smith for “honoring the nation in a most special way by donating the White House Christmas Tree for 2018.”
Besides the High Country Press, many other media outlets covered the ceremony and Christmas tree selection including Fox National News, Spectrum, CBC3 Media-Southeast Produce Weekly, WBTV-Charlotte, WJHL-Johnson City, TN and various other national, state and regional television stations and newspapers.
Since 1966, members of the 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.
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. Smith also 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 the entrance to Raleigh’s Hawkins-Hartness House where Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest’s office is located.
Photos by Tim Gardner