COLUMBIA — Dean Fitzgerald has spent 20 years growing sturdy, beautiful Christmas trees on his farm south of Columbia. But he's wistful about one big disappointment: fir trees.
“They’re the Cadillac of Christmas trees, and I can’t grow them,” said the owner of Log Providence Pines Tree Farm off U.S. 63.
Log Providence Pines Tree Farm
Address: 5502 Log Providence Pines Road, Columbia
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends; noon to 5 p.m. weekdays until Christmas
Trees: Scotch pine, white pine, Norway spruce, fir
Additional services: Gift shop with wreaths, garlands, ornaments and more
Directions: Take U.S. 63 south toward Jefferson City. Turn right onto Log Providence Pines Road and look for the signs.
Starr Pines Christmas Tree Farm and Gift Shop
Address: 21298 Pleasant Hill Road, Boonville
Web site: starrpines.com
Hours: 9 a.m. until dark daily until Christmas
Trees: 35,000 to 40,000 Scotch pines
Go green: Bring an artificial tree and get 50 percent off a real tree.
Additional services: Hay rides, Amish candy and crafts, free hot cider
Directions: Take Interstate 70 to Missouri 87 exit, go south for five miles, then west on Pleasant Hill Road and watch for signs.
Timber View Tree Farm
Address: 5301 E. Raitt Road, Hartsburg
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends, 1 to 5 p.m. weekdays until Christmas
Trees: Scotch and white pine
Additional services: Hay rides, wreaths, ornaments, hot chocolate and coffee
Directions: Take U.S. 63 south. Turn right on Old 63, left on Mt. Pleasant Road, then turn onto Raitt Road.
After trying for two decades to grow 50 species of fir trees found all over the world, Fitzgerald had to stick with Scotch pine, Norway spruce and white pine on the farm.
Running a tree farm is fun, he said, but it's also a lot of work, “and that’s what gets me in trouble."
Fitzgerald just turned 80, and next year, he and his wife, Diane, will bid goodbye to their tree farm.
It's obvious Fitzgerald doesn’t want to sell the place from the way he talks about the joy it brings to him, Diane and their customers. In fact, he’ll admit he would love to stay, but “we can’t do it like we used to."
The Fitzgeralds have been farming since 1958 when they purchased two parcels of land from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
"There were 100 Scotch pines in there,” Fitzgerald said. “So we planted.”
The same year, Fitzgerald became the first principal of Russell Boulevard Elementary School. Later, he took a job as personnel director at MU where he worked until 1991.
Eventually, they sold a portion of their land to a local nursery and moved to their current home. For the past 25 years, they have lived on 40 acres tucked into the countryside south of Columbia, reserving 10 acres for the trees.
During an interview last week, Fitzgerald was seated near the wood-burning fireplace in Log Providence Pines' gift shop with his denim coat buttoned to his neck and a red plaid hat on his head.
The room was warm, a haven from harsh winter winds, and Christmas music was coming from the corner of the gift shop. The shop holds wreaths, garlands, swags, tree ornaments, jewelry and wood furniture. This year, the Fitzgeralds are trying to move them all out the door.
“We’re selling everything,” Diane Fitzgerald said, and half-empty walls bear evidence to her statement.
Among her customers Saturday were Chris and Lori Valleroy, who had brought their two sons, Dylan and Jake, to the tree farm for the first time Saturday. It took only a few minutes for them to find a tree they liked and cut it down.
On Tuesday, eight students from Russell Boulevard will take a field trip to Log Providence Pines to pick out the school’s “giving tree.”
“It’s a tree with no decorations. Families bring in hats, scarfs, mittens and socks,” said Mary Lamberson, secretary at Russell Boulevard. “It’s usually covered by Christmas break.”
Donated items are taken to the Salvation Army and to Rainbow House, a temporary shelter for children, Lamberson said. Some are kept at Russell Boulevard for students who may not have warm clothes for winter.
It's families such as the Valleroys and groups such as the Russell Boulevard students who have brought joy to Dean and Diane Fitzgerald for 20 years. The farm is a business, but it’s also a part of their home, since they live just a few yards from the gift shop.
A sign in Log Providence Pines’ gift shop from Dean and Diane thanks all the families who have come to the farm “in sleet and snow, mud and rain — with kids, dogs and cats, babies and boyfriends."
Some are coming for their first Christmas and others for their 50th.
“We want to thank you for all the joy you brought with you,” the Fitzgeralds tell them.
So, what will Christmas be like for them next year?
“We’ll come back and cut down our own Christmas tree,” Dean Fitzgerald said. Six potential buyers want to keep the place as a tree farm, he said.
But, Fitzgerald hasn't negotiated a selling price for the farm yet. He's had other things on his mind.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” Fitzgerald said.
The couple says they are going to miss the farm and everything it brings, but they are happy the next owner of Log Providence Pines wants to keep the traditions alive.
That will be good news for Clay and Jen Stem and their boys, Chase and Grady.
“Timber!” Clay Stem said Saturday as his family’s chosen tree took a fall to the ground.
“We’ve got a team effort here,” he said, as he and the boys began to pull the tree toward the shelter, where Dean Fitzgerald was waiting to help.