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Michael Rielly

'Evelyn's tree': River Heights Christmas lights lit to remember late community member

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Michael Rielly

'Evelyn's tree': River Heights Christmas lights lit to remember late community member

By Erick L Graham Wood
February 25, 2019
Herald Journal News

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EXCERPT:

Evelyn Ellis loved to sing the 1977 song “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone.

She would sing the words, “‘Cause you light up my life; you give me hope to carry on. You light up my days and fill my nights with song,” to herself and to her family members. However, for residents of the River Heights community, Evelyn lit up their lives not only figuratively but literally with a 30-to-40-foot blue spruce known as “Evelyn’s tree” that adorned her front yard with bright Christmas lights shining for every occasion.

Evelyn, 95, died Feb. 16, and her tree shines at her home on 400 South to honor her memory.

“We were returning a few of her things to her home when my husband (Evelyn’s son, Rod) decided to light up the tree again,” Lisa Ellis said. “It’s like a flag at half mast or Old Main turning blue. Everyone knows what the tree means.”

The tree, which lit up for its first time in November 2013, was more than just a Christmas gift from Evelyn to the community. The tree lit up again after the holiday season on Dec. 31, 2013; Evelyn’s 90th birthday.

“The tree was something Evelyn wanted to light up for years,” Lisa said.

Specialized Pest Control and Lawn Care offered to light Evelyn’s tree to the delight of much of the community.

“The Herald Journal ran a story five years ago,” Lisa said. “We got phone calls, and the response was huge. Then we lit the tree up for Evelyn’s birthday, and the guys came around to take the lights down, but Evelyn decided she wanted to keep them up for good.”

Lisa said that Evelyn was losing her sight and mobility over the last five years, and the lights were connected to a remote control in her home.

“It’s almost as if lighting that tree gave her a sense of purpose in the community again,” Lisa said. “She lit it up for everything from birthdays to anniversaries to USU football games. My birthday is in June, and she would call me up and say, ‘I’m turning on the tree for you,’ and she did.”

The tree has become a staple in the River Heights community and will remain lit for at least the upcoming week.

“It’s known as ‘the happy tree’ or ‘the birthday tree’ or just ‘Evelyn’s tree,’ and it was planted 55 years ago,” Lisa said.

Evelyn, a Utah State University graduate and founding member of River Heights’ Daughters of Utah Pioneers group, took care of the tree for 42 years after the death of her husband, Dean.

Evelyn’s funeral was last week, and many who knew her came out to pay their respects.

“Evelyn knew a lot of people, and the kids of people she knew showed up on Saturday,” Lisa said. “She was grand marshal at the parade last year and Resident of the Year in 2009. Her service in the community is what made her so well-known, and this tree was another one of those services.”

Evelyn’s family took care of her in her home for the last few years before she was hospitalized in January. Currently, a visitor to Evelyn’s home will find dozens of paper hearts with messages of love taped to the front door, with more added each day.

“Sister Ellis will always hold a special place in the hears of our family,” reads one note left by Jason and Dana Thompson.

“Evelyn, you definitely had heart! Thanks for adding to my life,” read another from Kirsty Scott.

Another read, “Evelyn, my example of pure love” and another, “I’m a lucky person to have known you.”

Lisa said that new neighbors would wonder why Christmas lights were shining in May or July, but they would find out quickly.

Lisa’s family is currently building a new house and plans to plant an “Evelyn tree” of their own on their property.

Several of Evelyn’s family members are looking at moving into her home, and the family said that they want to maintain the tradition of keeping the lights turned on in the future.

Ross Peterson has lived three doors down from Evelyn since 1971.

“She and her husband are the epitome of what community means,” Peterson said. “They served and gave back and participated and got involved in the community. They did a lot to make it a special place.”

Dean was the mayor of River Heights for eight years, and Evelyn sponsored the Dean Ellis Memorial Tennis Tournament in his honor.

Evelyn is survived by her four children and their spouses, 16 grandchildren, 42 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

“They were very inclusive,” Peterson said.

“Evelyn had friends of all ages,” Lisa added. “She really had a knack for interacting with everyone, even if they aren’t family. She would adopt them into her family.”

Peterson said that she had an “unbelievable ability” to remember birthdays and events going back as far as friends that she went to high school with.

“She would call each of them,” Lisa said. “She would call and just say, ‘I’m turning on the tree for you.’”

SOURCE: https://www.hjnews.com/news/local/evelyn-s-tree-river-heights-christmas-lights-lit-to-remember/article_725cf4b4-6fcb-5116-b066-093b89af3a96.html

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