By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
WEST ONEONTA – It was a reveal four years in the making.
“When I was here in 2016, I came around the corner and there was this beautiful tree,” said Erik Pauze, Rockefeller Center’s head gardener. “But it wasn’t quite ready yet. So for four years, I’ve been coming up twice a year to water and feed it.”
And finally, the 75-foot Norway Spruce, on the property of Paula Dick, daughter of “Daddy Al” and Susan, will make its nationwide debut Wednesday, Dec. 2, as the 2020 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
“Pauze’s daughter goes to SUNY Delhi, so whenever he comes up here, he drives around and looks at trees,” said Daddy Al, who is donating the tree on behalf of his grocery store. “When he first looked at it, it was only 71-feet tall, and they have to be a minimum of 75, so he came up every year.”
“We knew they would come for it at some point,” said Paula. “But it didn’t seem real until just last week!”
Pauze and his team arrived in the early morning on Thursday, Nov. 12. “It’s got a big, beautiful shape,” he said. “It stands up straight and strong enough to hold all the lights and the star.”
Once the chainsaw was revved up, it took woodsmen and landscapers from Rockefeller Center and Lynn Warren Lawn Maintenance & Landscaping, Newburgh, less than three minutes to cut down the 75-year-old spruce, which was then lifted high above the crowd and laid on a flatbed truck.
“You don’t realize how big it is until you see it high above you,” said Paula.
From there, state troopers, Otsego County and Delaware county sheriffs’ deputies, and other departments along the route escorted the tree to Rockefeller Center, 22 acres that stretch between 48th and 51st streets and Fifth and Sixth avenues, where it was installed on Saturday morning.
It will be lit on Dec. 2 in a ceremony to be broadcast on NBC, and will remain lit through New Year’s Eve, one of the city’s few holiday traditions still ongoing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall has been cancelled, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade will be closed to crowds, broadcast instead on TV the morning of Nov. 26.
“I hope everyone takes a moment to put everything else aside and look at it,” said Paula. “A lot of people need some cheer right now.”
And for Al, the tree itself might make some local Christmases a little merrier. “It’s been an economic boon to the area,” he said. “They hired local companies to come out here today, the Latte Lounge, Seward Sand & Gravel, even local Porta Pottys. The security teams were here 24 hours, and they stayed in local hotels. That’s important.”
Of course, he said with a smile, they also bought plenty of subs at Daddy Al’s General Store on Chestnut Street.
In 2016, Angie and Graig Eichler, Country Club Road, donated their 96-foot Norway Spruce, making it the second largest tree in Rockefeller Center history.
They worked with their neighbor, Heidi Hofbauer-Buzzy of Alpine Awards & Engraving, to make an ornament in honor of the occasion. According to Graig, they have commissioned and sent one to the families of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree every year since their own tree went up.
“It’s a little tradition we started after ours went up,” said Angie. “We get their address and send them an ornament, and they almost always call us or send a little note back. It’s nice to connect in that way!”
Angie was at the latest cutting with new ornaments for the Dick family, as well as for anyone who wants to bring a little Oneonta-Rockefeller flare to their own Christmas tree. The ornaments are also available for sale at Alpine Engraving.
The Dick family plans to go down to the city to see their tree all lit up. “This is the kind of thing you tell your grandchildren,” said Paula.
And as the tree was loaded onto the flatbed truck, a rumor began circulating through the gathered crowd that this may not be the last tree Oneonta sends to the big city.
“That’s top secret,” said Pauze.