Akron, Ohio — Akron Children’s Hospital volunteers have filled the John S. Knight Center in downtown Akron this week, hanging lights, tying bows and spreading tinsel for the 40th Holiday Tree Festival.

The pandemic has made the event virtual again this year, but the festival’s trees, wreaths and decorations are no less spectacular, said Mary Leuca, who has chaired the Holiday Tree festival committee for nine years.

What You Need To Know

  • Children’s Holiday Tree Festival begins online at 8 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 13 and runs through midnight Tuesday Nov. 16

  • Volunteers say, although the event is online, it is no less spectacular with hundreds of trees, wreaths and decorations

  • The annual event raises money for medical research, education and patient care at Children’s Hospital

  • Children’s physician Dr. Robert Klein will auction a train display honoring Cleveland Cavaliers announcer Joe Tait

Every item in the festival, as well as decoration of more than 100 trees, is by volunteers dedicated to raising money for Children’s Hospital, she said.

“My favorite part is working with the decorators and volunteers,” Leuca said. “You’ll never find a better group of people. That's why they're here.”

One of the volunteers, Patty Kelleher, has worked the tree fest for 39 years, she said.

Volunteer Patty Kelleher has worked the tree fest for 39 years because it brings families joy. (Spectrum News/Jennifer Conn)

“This place is magical. And it's been magical from the beginning,” Kelleher said. “It really has, it's been a very special thing.”

Kelleher said she was hooked the first year she volunteered after she watched the children of an underserved family light up as they walked into the room to see hundreds of sparking trees and decorations.

“I thought, what joy this is giving these people and these little kids,” she said. “They’ve never seen anything like this before. And that was just magical. That kept me here for 38 more years.”

The Holiday Tree Festival begins at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13 and runs through midnight Tuesday, Nov. 16.  

Akron Children's Holiday Tree Festival runs Nov. 13 though Nov. 16 (Spectrum News/Jennifer Conn)

All the items will be displayed on Children’s Tree Festival website, where attendees can purchase or bid on them. Several sizes of trees will be available, along with 50 wreaths, 49 holiday gifts and 45 silent auction items, she said.

Here’s how it works:

  • Trees, wreaths and decorations can be viewed on the tree festival website beginning Friday, Nov. 12
  • Each item will be marked for online purchase or for bid
  • Children’s volunteers will notify winners
  • Trees over 5-feet tall can be delivered Friday, Nov. 19 within a 50-mile radius
  • Smaller trees, wreaths and decorations can be picked up at the Knight Center on Wednesday, Nov. 17 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday, Nov. 18 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

One of the featured displays this year is a tribute to former Cleveland Cavaliers announcer Joe Tait, a model-train enthusiast.

Tait’s friend, Children’s physician Dr. Robert Klein, shared that love of trains, and every year has built a train display for the tree festival, Klein said.

When Tait died in March, Klein and his wife, Karen Klein, began building a display for the tree festival using some of Tait’s trains, including collectible items such as books and plaques that were bequeathed to Klein from Tait’s collection.

Over the years, the Kleins have commissioned 4-B Wood of Seville to build tables for the tree festival display. This year, they commissioned a special table dedicated to Tait, which features inlaid photos of Tait, as well as intricately carved microphones and an inscription.

Cavs announcer Joe Tait and his friend, Children's physician Dr. Robert Klein shared a love of model trains. (Spectrum News/Jennifer Conn)

“I just wanted to give a representation of what he had, as a tribute to him,” Klein said. “He loved kids and he did things for kids. And, you know, he never refused a kid anything, autographs and so forth. He was a kid at heart.”

Although Children’s Holiday Tree Festivals are always free at the door, the events raise an average of $300,000 per year, with last year’s virtual event raising about $100,000, Leuca said. Since the first tree fest in 1982, the event has raised more than $6.6 million for medical research, education and patient care at Children’s.

Visit the Children’s Hospital Holiday Tree Festival website for more information.