‘REAL’ CHRISTMAS: Tradition, ‘the smell’ keep holiday shoppers coming back for live trees

John Kempenich and his daughter, Lexi, of Dickinson, check to see if the Christmas tree they picked out at the Dickinson State University Rodeo Club’s sale on Wednesday evening at the DSU Ag Building is the one they want.

For John Kempenich, it’s about tradition, family and, of course, the smell.

Kempenich spent several minutes Wednesday night at the Dickinson State University Agriculture Building carefully examining the fir trees lining the walls until he found one that caught his eye.

He fluffed the tree and inspected it some more. After seeking the advice of his daughters, who each performed the same meticulous study of the tree, the decision was made. The Kempenich family had found their Christmas tree.

They have been coming to DSU to pick out a Christmas tree sold as a fundraiser by the university’s rodeo club since before their 18-year-old daughter Lexi was born.

“It’s just one of them things that you like — that smell and the familiness of coming together and picking out a tree for the year,” Kempenich said as the smile on his face grew.

He remembers hiking into the Badlands outside of Bowman with his family during his youth to cut down cedar and pine trees for Christmas. Now, finding the right tree means taking a short drive across town.

While it may not be the same as cutting down a tree in the wilderness, picking out a real fir, pine or cedar instead of going to the store and buying an artificial version of one still appeals to many people — and those who sell trees in Dickinson say the amount of business they’re getting this year is proof.

Lee Duppong of Cashman Nursery, which sets up nearly every year in the southeast corner of Prairie Hills Mall parking lot, said hundreds of people so far have turned out to buy Christmas trees.

Temperatures were cold when they unloaded their truck the Friday after Thanksgiving, but Duppong said “people were buying like crazy.” He said Cashman Nursery has also seen the benefits of out-of-state customers who have moved to Dickinson.

“There’s people who come here from an area of the country where they’re used to forests and trees, and real trees are in their blood and they’re looking for them,” Duppong said.

When asked by his general manager, Mark Kerr, how many real Christmas trees they had sold the Friday after Thanksgiving, Menards sales associate Dominic Heminger laughed and said “I lost count.”

The DSU Rodeo Club has sold more than 100 trees so far and still has plenty left.

After DSU freshman Justin Ward and his rodeo teammates finished helping the Kempenichs and other customers Wednesday, he said it’s a good feeling to know the club’s fundraising effort is about more than just themselves.

“You bring Christmas into people’s homes,” said Ward, a rodeo club member from Mabel, Minn. “They help us out, but in a sense we’re helping them out — spreading Christmas cheer.”

Most of the Christmas trees for sale in Dickinson are fi rs.

Cashman Nursery sells about five kinds of trees, but the Fraser fir is by far the most popular, Duppong said.

Jen Obrigewitch, a DSU teacher and assistant rodeo coach, said the club sells grand firs and noble firs purchased from the Bear Creek Tree Farm in Molalla, Ore. They even have tree disposal bags and a tree preservative to put in the water of tree stand to nourish it through the holidays.

Obrigewitch said she has both a real tree and an artificial tree at her home.

“I like the authenticity,” she said. “I have a fake tree that my mom gave me. We do two trees. I always get a real one every year. I like the smell of it and I like that it’s real. I have little kids and they like the real tree more than than fake one.”

Ann Berry, a customer at Cashman Nursery, said even though her husband isn’t a fan of real trees, she likes to use real tree branches to decorate around their home during the holidays.

“I always think of Charlie Brown,” she said with a smile.

The price of real Christmas trees vary by height, from around $40 to more than $80.

But to some, like Berry, the price doesn’t really matter.

“I do have a pre-lit artificial tree, which I do like, but would take a real tree any day over an artificial tree,” Berry said. To others, it’s just not Christmas without a real Christmas tree. Bob Milner, owner of Landscaping Solutions in Dickinson, is helping Duppong — who he called his friend of many years — with sales and the keeping of the trees at their spot in the mall parking lot. He also sets up a real Christmas tree in his home because, as he puts it, “they’re the only way to go.”

Author: Dustin Monke

Former newspaper editor. Now I market the best baked goods and donuts in America. But every once in a while, I write a cool story too.

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