Crowds flock to mansion for tree lighting, candlelight tours

Ken Barnes/News Tribune
First lady Teresa Parson welcomes everyone to the "People's House" on Friday night for the annual lighting of the Governor's Tree and Candlelight Tours.
Ken Barnes/News Tribune First lady Teresa Parson welcomes everyone to the "People's House" on Friday night for the annual lighting of the Governor's Tree and Candlelight Tours.

Gov. Mike Parson and first lady Teresa Parson hosted hundreds of guests Friday evening for the annual tree lighting ceremony and candlelight tours of the Governor's Mansion.

Judith Waltz and Judy Longwith have attended the Governor's tree lighting for the past three years.

As they stood in line outside the mansion and waited for the tour, they spoke about the Bolivar High School choir students, who were near the front steps and started singing Christmas carols beginning at 5:30 p.m.

"I'm so proud of our choir," Longwith said. Both attended Bolivar High School, graduating together in 1972. They both were in the choir and have children who were in the choir at the high school.

Waltz moved to Jefferson City from Bolivar in the 1990s. Longwith lives in the Springfield area and they make sure to visit each other as often as possible, Waltz said.

After the choir was finished singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," the governor and his wife came outside to greet the growing crowd. Parson said he's grateful to Daryl and Sherry Richardson of Boone County for donating the 30-foot Norway spruce tree that now sits on the mansion's lawn.

Then the line that wrapped from the mansion's front doors to Capitol Avenue began to move inside for a tour of the first floor. Attendees had the opportunity to meet the Parsons while a professional pianist performed classical music.

The governor also had his new book, "No Turnin' Back," on display.

There were also three Norway Spruce trees inside the mansion near the steps -- two 8-foot trees and one 10-foot tree from the Pea Ridge Forest in Hermann -- as well as several others throughout the first floor.

"People have been asking me how many trees there are this year. I don't know, because nobody's asked that before," docent Pat Behler said, adding that in the past, there has typically been just one large Christmas tree by the inside steps.

This year's theme is "Standing United: A Salute to Christmas." During the tour, veterans and active military members were present.

Toys for Tots representatives were also standing by to accept new, unwrapped toys or monetary contributions for local children.

The candlelight tour hosted approximately 1,500 people, according to Parson's communications director, Stephanie Whitaker.

The governor's mansion will be open for another round of tours from 6-8 p.m. Monday.

photo Ken Barnes/News Tribune Gov. Mike Parson welcomes everyone Friday night to the annual Governor's tree lighting and candlelight tour of the Mansion.
photo Ken Barnes/News Tribune Attendees file through the parlor of the Governor's Mansion on Friday during the annual candlelight tour.
photo Ken Barnes/News Tribune The tree is surrounded by American flags Friday night, representing the patriotic theme for this year's decorations at the Governor's Mansion.