By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
When Sue Dick moved into the home here where she and “Daddy Al” raised their family, she often wondered about the Norway Spruce in the front yard.
“I always wanted to decorate that tree,” she said. “But it was always too big and I didn’t have the stuff to do it. But now I’ve finally seen it decorated, and it was beautiful.”
With performances by Kelly Clarkson, the Goo Goo Dolls, Dolly Parton and Earth, Wind & Fire, the Dick family’s 75-foot Norway Spruce was lit as the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree during the 88th annual celebration on Wednesday, Dec 2.
“We knew that tree was beautiful,” said his daughter Paula. “It was a magical night.”
“This year, we just feel the tree is vital,” said Rob Speyer, president/CEO of Tishman Speyer, which owns Rockefeller Center. “The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree always represents the holiday season, but it has also stood tall as a symbol of hope, resilience, and New York’s enduring spirit, from the Great Depression to 9/11, Superstorm Sandy through today.”
Speaking during the lighting ceremony, he continued, “2020 has been a difficult year, but New Yorkers have persevered, and we are determined to come back better and stronger. We are particularly proud to continue the joyous tradition this year.”
As it happens, the huge spruce was the second from Oneonta: The first, from the Country Club Road yard of Graig and Angela Eichler, adorned Rockefeller Center in 2016.
Following the delivery of this tree to Rockefeller Center Saturday, Nov. 14, “Daddy Al” reported emails, letters, Christmas cards and gifts began to show up at his deli and grocery on Oneonta’s West End.
“I’ve been answering emails all day,” he said. “They come from England, Haiti, Miami, Geneseo. People say I’m inspiring, but I didn’t know that!”
One person sent even a hardcover book about the history of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. “They told me they thought I should have it,” he said. “Another person who donated a tree sent me a little book about the tree, and I read it to my grandkids.”
But he had a fair share of detractors too, some who called the tree – it may have arrived in Manhattan after a two-day journey looking a little worse for wear – “the embodiment of 2020” and “The Charlie Brown Christmas tree.”
“The New York Times called me up and asked if I could guarantee the tree would look good,” Al said. “I told them of course it would look good!”
But with the reveal a diminutive Saw-whet owl found among the branches after the 170-mile journey, softer hearts prevailed.
Rocky, as she became known, was rehabilitated and released by the Ravensbeard Wildlife Center in Saugerties. Her image adorned merchandise, memes, a painting by Cooperstown’s May Britt Joyce, a bobble-head and, most recently, the tail of a Frontier Airlines jet.
“We hear owls all the time,” said Al. “But I’ve never seen that one! I don’t know how she got in there.”
Before the tree lighting, the Dicks were taken to dinner and on a tour of the sights, including Top of the Rock and to see the famed Saks Fifth Avenue light display.
“I’d seen it on YouTube, but to see it in person was phenomenal,” said Susan.
And when word got around who they were, they had fans approaching them throughout the evening. “One woman came up to us and said that she had moved to Oneonta in 1982 and now lived in Rhode Island,” said Susan. “She asked if we knew some people that she remembered, and we did!”
The Oneonta tree was covered with more than 50,000 multi-colored, energy-efficient LED lights, and is on display through early January 2021, with COVID regulations, including social distancing, digital queuing, time limits and mask requirements, in place. The lit tree will also will be live-streamed each day from 8 a.m. – midnight.
“It was perfect,” said Al. “Just like we knew it would be.”
Gardeners from Rockefeller Center have already returned to West Oneonta for one round of landscaping and plan to return in the spring to build a new fence and plant apple trees.
And while they were there, they found a small sapling near the site of the former towering tree, likely one of the original pinecones taking root.