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15,000 lights – a feeling of family and connections

By Michelle G. Lyerly

Kannapolis Citizen

Thousands of lights will illuminate Veterans Park in Kannapolis this Christmas — a reminder that Jesus is the light of the world.

On Saturday evening, the Kannapolis Beautification Commission welcomed the Advent season by hosting its annual Christmas tree lighting program at Veterans Park.

“This is a ceremony that has begun the Christmas season for the last couple of years,” Mayor Bob Misenheimer said. “I look forward to it every year.”

“It’s a family event. Kannapolis is all about family and friends, and that’s what this (event) is for,” Bernie Misenheimer, the mayor’s wife, said.

Other groups who made the ceremony possible were the Piedmont Choral Society, Cabarrus Arts Council, the Pilot Club of Kannapolis, Kimball Memorial Lutheran Church, First Presbyterian Church, St. James Lutheran Church, Kiser’s Christmas Trees and Kannapolis Parks and Recreation Department.

The Pilot Club places the luminaries, which cost $2, in honor or memory of loved ones. The fundraiser supports the local club’s mission to combat brain-related injuries.

This is the club’s 30th year of sponsoring luminaries, which, before construction of the N.C. Research Campus began, had been placed around the lake.

Erin Carter, assistant program coordinator for the Parks and Recreation Department and a native of Logan, Ohio, also a small town, said the tree lighting “gives me a sense of being part of the community, like a fellowship.”

Jonathan Martin, a fifth-grader at Bostian Elementary, had looked forward to the event. “It’s a good start to the Christmas season,” he said.

In welcoming everyone, Mayor Misenheimer attributed the good weather for the tree lighting and last week’s parade to the efforts of the Kannapolis City Council.

Charles McKinney, chairman of the Beautification Commission, who announced that decorators had placed 15,000 lights on the 26-foot tall Tree of Hope for the city’s Centennial Year.

Then, the Piedmont Choral Society chimed in with “Have You Heard the Story of the Jesus Child?”

Young Zachary Beaver pulled the switch to light the first tree — the Tree of Faith. “I know there is sadness in the world,” he said. “Who can we depend on? I trust in God. Let faith shine this Christmas.”

Following the song “Love Came Down at Christmas,” his sister, Kaylee Beaver, introduced the Tree of Love: “The greatest commandment is to love one another. Let love shine this Christmas.”

After everyone there joined in “Joy to the World,” Chelsea Goodnight, a senior at A.L. Brown and member of the Anchorettes, a student group affiliated with the Pilot Club, introduced the Tree of Joy. “We can rejoice with the angel who said to the shepherds, ‘I bring you good news of great joy.’ Let joy shine this Christmas.”

After another song, Charles Mitchell complimented the host organizations — “Now we don’t have a lake, but you’ve done a very beautiful job” — and he and his wife, Ophelia, illuminated the Tree of Peace.

“Life is the most precious gift. Let peace shine this Christmas,” Charles Mitchell said.

The end of the festivities brought a special moment for those gathered. Four generations of the Carlyle Rutledge family, pulled the switch to light the Tree of Hope.

“Too heavy of a job to turn the switch. Couldn’t they find something lighter for me to do?” Rutledge joked before the ceremony.

Rutledge, whom Mayor Misenheimer called “a grand representation of our centennial year,” turns 97 on Dec. 28.

Born in 1909, Rutledge has seen the “marvelous transformation of Kannapolis from textiles to biotechnology,” daughter Martha Rutledge Macon said.

“Dad has been such an involved citizen since he worked in his sister and brother’s drug store. See how excited and touched the people are!” she exclaimed.

A businessman, philanthropist and former state lawmaker, Rutledge has been a member of the Kannapolis Rotary Club since 1944, just one year after it was established.

“He’s been a good citizen for the city of Kannapolis,” Misenheimer said, noting that Rutledge and Walter Odell are the only Kannapolis members ever elected Rotary district governor.

In his usual humorous manner, Rutledge introduced the Tree of Hope with a poem he recites to his family every Christmas. It began:

“Santa Claus, you mean old man, didn’t bring my dog.”

After the boy in the poem finally sees his new dog sitting in the back yard, he concludes, “Santa, you’re a fine old man.”

Following the lighting of the Tree of Hope, a reminder to all that “Christ is the light of the world,” the ceremony concluded with everyone chiming in on “Silent Night.”

According to Charles McKinley, organizers patterned the tree lighting ceremony after the traditional Christian practice of lighting an Advent wreath — with each tree corresponding to a candle in the wreath leading up to Christmas itself, represented in this ceremony by the tallest tree.

Martha Foster Johnson wrote the speeches for the event with the help of an Advent calendar.

Some of the speakers for the evening further adapted their speeches to correspond with the mood of the evening.

“We wanted to make it more suitable for the audience,” Ophelia Mitchell, president of the Pilot Club, said. She admitted removing a quote from Ben Franklin because she thought it was too “political.”

Included just beneath the gazebo, the main stage for the event, was a set of fuse boxes — each with light switches for their respective trees and powered, according to s sign, by the North Pole Power Company.

And of course, free refreshments were served afterwards, compliments of the Beautification Commission.

“More cookies, enough chocolate to feed a city!” exclaimed Ava Fisher of the Parks and Recreation Department, as she handed out hot chocolate.

*

Contact Michelle Lyerly at 704-932-3336 or news@kannapoliscitizen.com.

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