by CHRIS ROGERS
Many hours of work by local college students, chamber staff, and volunteers came to fruition on Thursday night as close to 200 people celebrated the lighting of the first public Christmas tree to grace downtown Winona in years.
This fall, the Winona Main Street Program commissioned Minnesota State College Southeast (MSC Southeast) classes to build a 16-foot-tall artificial Christmas tree. It was the work of many hands, as welding students fabricated and assembled the tree’s metal frame, auto body pupils painted it piney green, trucking students delivered it downtown, chamber staff and volunteers wrapped it in spool after spool of garland, and the Winona Fire Department capped it off with a star, using an aerial fire truck and what may have been a taller ladder than necessary.
At Peter’s Biergarten — a vacant East Third Street lot turned into a seasonal beer garden and community space that is the site of the tree — children lined up for photos with Santa and people enjoyed hot cocoa while Winona Main Street Program Coordinator Ben Strand prepared to flip the switch on the tree lights. MSC Southeast Welding Instructor Casey Mann joked, “I’ve got extra wing nuts [for the star] in case the fire department drops them.”
“I’m kind of surprised how many people came out here,” welding student Tanner Mote said. He added, “It’s really cool. It’s kind of nice to know that we as a class put this together.”
Fellow welding student Brandon Kessler agreed, “It definitely feels kind of honoring to do something like this that may be a tradition for a number of years.”
“The tree lighting was magical!” MSC Southeast President Marsha Danielson said. “Seeing the faces of the families that gathered to see the star put into place and the tree lit made the efforts of our students, faculty and staff worthwhile. Part of our mission as a community and technical college is to collaborate with the communities we serve. We were honored to be part of this project and look forward to continuing and creating partnerships like this one in our communities.”
This was a big collaboration, said Winona Area Chamber of Commerce President Christie Ransom, under whose organization the Main Street Program operates. “Four departments at Minnesota State College Southeast had their hands on this tree,” she said, in addition to local businesses who volunteered their time to help.
Ransom said Main Street plans to display the tree downtown every year and hopefully expand, adding more lights and decorations to Third Street. “It’s the gateway to our shopping district and we want to make sure it’s exciting,” she said. Some smaller towns do more to decorate their downtown business district, and it’s something Winona could build on, she said.
The tree will be on display through New Year’s Day at 54 East Third Street.