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New 'SMILE Christmas Tree' chosen and lit

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The Sellwood-Westmoreland Christmas Tree is back -- but it's a different tree now


DAVID F. ASHTON - In the bucket lift, high about the new SMILE Christmas tree just north of Sellwood Boulevard, Matt Hainley positions a string of lights. A long-standing tradition in the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood is the Christmas tree strung with Holiday lights on the edge of Oaks Bottom Bluff, where Bybee Boulevard curves south to become S.E. 13th.

The custom continues this year, although with a different tree now festooned with colored lights.

"Businessman Dent Thomas is credited with starting the tradition of decorating the tree," recalled lifelong resident Matt Hainley, as he stepped into the crane bucked to be lifted high above the new tree, to start stringing the lights on Saturday morning November 26.

"Some of my first memories of enjoying it date back to 1966, when I was walking to kindergarten at Llewellyn Elementary School," Hainley said.

For a while this year, the two families who've spearheaded the effort for years with the sponsorship of SMILE, the Hainleys and Heibergs, feared there might not be a lit tree this Christmas.

"The tree we've decorated in the past is right on the edge of the bluff, and starting to lean over the bank," Hainley explained. "And, last year, The Park Rangers came up and hassled us about working on that tree, because it's officially part of Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. We were wondering what kind of hoops we would have to jump through, and what permissions we'd need, to do it again this year."

They considered driving a tall pole into the ground and draping the lights from it, but project proved prohibitively expensive, and tall poles are not very Christmassy.

"So, we started looking around for another tree, and we spotted this one just south of the old one, located on private property. It's not quite as tall as the other tree but, it really looks nice," Hainley smiled.

When the property owners, Laurie Ortega and Jim Diekmann, saw the men admiring it, they asked, "Do you want to use our tree?" Hainley recalled. "We provided insurance through SMILE, and off we go!"

With a smaller crew of friends and family, and a big lift from Smith Crane, the new tree was bejeweled with lights the Saturday morning after Thanksgiving. An extension cord to test the lights was provided by Dr. Dan Beeson from Beeson Chiropractic and Wellness, just south of the new tree. Then, after the electrical circuit installation, with power again underwritten this year by Wilhelm's Portland Memorial, the official tree lighting took place on Tuesday evening, November 29, as more than 100 neighbors gathered to sing carols and look on.

"It's a fun thing to do for the neighborhood; it's a nice way to help the neighborhood celebrate the Holidays," Hainley said.

The annual Christmas Tree is sponsored by SMILE, the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood association; as well as by Portland Memorial, Heiberg Garbage & Recycling, Smith Crane, and Hollywood Lights, Inc.