BY VICKI TERWILLIGER
PITMAN — White House staffers made the selection official Tuesday, and tagged it with a red ribbon.
Millions of people visiting the White House this Christmas season will see the Douglas fir that the men chose from Larry and Joanne Snyder’s Mahantongo Valley Farms.
The Snyders’ evergreen will grace the White House Blue Room and the family plans to go to Washington, D.C., for the celebration. Larry Snyder is scheduled to present the tree to First Lady Melania Trump on Nov. 25.
Timothy Harleth, White House chief usher, and Dale Haney, White House superintendent of grounds, visited the Pitman farm Monday and on Tuesday selected the perfect specimen during a special public ceremony.
“It’s a wonderful honor for our family to have been chosen to represent agriculture and all Christmas tree growers in America by providing the real Christmas tree that will be displayed in the Blue Room of the White House,” Larry Snyder said during the selection event.
“I’m going to thank my family for putting up with … all my nagging, complaining or prompting. I want to thank Lydia and Aaron and my wife, Joanne, for their constant support of me and my ‘tree obsession.’”
Joining Larry in the business are his wife, Joanne; their son, Aaron Snyder; daughter, Lydia Bomgardner and her husband, Andrew. They have two grandchildren, Mason Snyder and ClairaAnne Bomgardner.
“You can’t make every tree a champion tree, but you can sure try,” Larry Snyder said after the selection. “This is one of the highlights of my tree farming career.”
Mahantongo Valley Farms is a family-operated business that produces more than 20 Christmas tree varieties. The Snyders tend to 50,000 to 75,000 trees on 75 acres in Schuylkill and Northumberland counties.
This summer, Snyder won grand champion grower in the National Christmas Tree Association’s tree contest. With the award comes the honor of presenting a Christmas tree to the White House.
He began entering competitions a decade ago at state and local fairs. Winning the reserve champion at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in 2017 allowed Snyder to compete in the National Christmas Tree competition in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 2017. He didn’t win.
He calls it a “learning experience on a highly competitive level.”
Snyder’s 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Champion Corkbark fir at the state farm show made it possible for him to enter the 2019 National Christmas Tree Association competition, which he won.
The tree chosen Tuesday was actually in Northumberland County and has been growing for 16 years. It stands at least 22 to 24 feet high and is 12 feet wide at its base, Snyder said.
The tree will be fresh cut at the bottom to a height of 18½ feet tall, to meet the display specifications for the historic Blue Room. Since the tree can be viewed at 360 degrees, it needs to be the proper shape, without large branch gaps.
About 60 people attended the selection ceremony. Among them were representatives from the National Christmas Tree Association and Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association, and the Line Mountain High School Future Farmers of America.
Fred R. Strathmeyer, deputy secretary for plant industry and consumer protection with the state Department of Agriculture, knows the work involved with the tree business and told of his appreciation for the Snyder family.
“For about 45 years of my life, I spent out here in a farm just like this, shearing Christmas trees … Christmas trees just don’t happen. It takes many, many years, a lot of preparation and a lot of thought put into this.
“I’ve actually been on Larry’s farm in the past and had the pleasure of dealing with him and his family. It tickles me to death to know that you’re the person that’s going to put the tree in the White House,” Strathmeyer said.
This will be the 10th Pennsylvania tree has been in the Blue Room, according to Strathmeyer. Fellow Schuylkill County Christmas tree producers, Paul and Sharon Shealer, supplied the tree in 2000.
Snyder thanked those attending the ceremony and people who have assisted with trimming, harvesting and loading the trees over the years. He volunteered to mentor the FFA students and future generations interested in agriculture.
Joanne Snyder said everyone from the White House has been so nice.
“I’m very humbled by this and feel so blessed. This has been an unbelievable experience and we couldn’t have done it without our family. Larry had been trying to win this for so many years, and he tried and tried and kept on.”
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