An umbrella tree? Grayslake tree exhibit encourages creativity, giving

Nonprofit, community organizations use decorated trees to spotlight causes, raise money

Cheryl Lettow, of Round Lake Beach, on Nov. 19 works with Nancy Musselman and Carol Wegner, both of Grayslake, stapling leaves and flowers on umbrellas for the Grayslake Greenery Garden Club tree that will be on display for the Giving Trees exhibit at the Grayslake Heritage Center & Museum. The Giving Trees will be on display through the holidays.

GRAYSLAKE – This year’s Grayslake Giving Trees exhibit opens Friday, but many of those behind the annual attraction already are thinking about next year’s display.

Located at the Grayslake Heritage Center and Museum, 164 Hawley St., the exhibit has become quite the creative outlet for all involved.

Since 2013, area nonprofit and community organizations have decorated Christmas trees to both highlight their causes and bring in donations. The exhibit typically draws about a dozen participants, but this year’s attraction features 17 trees – all showcasing their mission or a theme of “Santa’s Workshop.”

“They’re so clever,” said Michelle Poe, executive director of the Grayslake Heritage Center and Museum. “I can’t get over how clever they are with the trees they come up with every year. They’re amazing.”

About 1,000 visitors are expected to view the trees from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25, when the exhibit opens as part of the village’s annual Tree Lighting and Holiday Festival in downtown Grayslake.

For $1 a ticket, people can vote for their favorite trees. The proceeds will be split among the participating groups and the Grayslake Historical Society. The winning organization keeps 100% of the proceeds collected for its tree, Poe said.

Throughout the holiday season, she said, hundreds more visit the exhibit.

In previous years, a tree from the Grayslake Library Foundation featured books spiraled to look like a tree. A tree from the farmers market included stalks of corn.

A regular award winner at the exhibit, the Grayslake Greenery Garden Club goes all out, Poe said.

“They start thinking about it as soon as they finish the previous year’s tree,” she said.

Yes, they bounce around ideas all year, said Gail Kirkham, president of the Grayslake Greenery Garden Club, but the real planning typically begins in August.

Previous garden club trees have been created out of ladders and tomato cages and shaped into a “gardening girl,” she said.

This year, it’s a tree made out of umbrellas with the theme “Rain Showers Bring Many Flowers.”

“So we have it raining on the umbrellas and then we’ve got flowers coming up for all the seasons,” Kirkham said.

The group has taken part in the exhibit for at least six years and has won an award – typically “most creative” – every year.

It’s all about being part of the community, Kirkham said. With 53 members, the club donates any funds raised as part of the exhibit back to the Heritage Center and Museum and contributes in other ways to the community. Members have planted flowers at the senior center and gardens at the library, Kirkham said.

“It’s supporting your community during the holidays,” she said. “I think that’s important.”

Displaying a tree for a second year, the Avon Township Youth Baseball and Softball organization created handmade baseball ornaments to decorate this year’s tree, said Dan Novacek, president of the organization.

The group participates to raise visibility and be part of the community, he said.

“It’s not really about raising funds,” he said. “It’s really about getting the different organizations together. It’s a really nice display. It’s nice to walk through and see the different artistic ingenuities. There’s a couple of really fun trees this year.”

Grayslake’s Tree Lighting and Holiday Festival will feature numerous events and attractions from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25, in downtown Grayslake. For more information, visit

The Tree Lighting Ceremony begins at 5:30 p.m. Other festival events include madrigal carolers, sleigh rides and visits with Santa and Mrs. Clause. Visitors are encouraged to stop by shops and vendors on the street for cocoa, treats and holiday shopping.

The Grayslake Arts Alliance will host a Holiday Fine Arts Show & Sale from 5 to 8 p.m. on the second floor of the Grayslake Village Hall, 10 Seymour Ave. The show will feature hanging artwork, prints and handmade items for sale.

Also as part of the festivities, the Grayslake Performing Arts Collaborative – the Voices of Grayslake – hosted a singing competition. Singers submitted videos to the Grayslake Performing Arts Collaborative Facebook page,, introducing themselves and singing a version of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” “Oh Christmas Tree” or “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” The winner will perform at the Tree Lighting Ceremony.