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story.lead_photo.caption Bob Henley, behind tree at left, pulls the tree off the stand Friday after father and son duo, Bob, right, and Gordon Branson, of Linn, visited the tree lot at the corner of Dunklin and Broadway streets to select a tree to decorate for Christmas. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

The corner of Dunklin and Broadway streets has once again turned into a temporary pine and fir tree forest, as the Optimist Club holds its annual Christmas tree sale.

The yard of the Carpenter's Building is full of hundreds of evergreens, ready to be taken home and decorated in Jefferson City living rooms.

The Optimist Club has been hosting the tree lot for at least 60 years, club member Ralph Biele said, but they aren't quite sure just how many.

Typically, the club sells around 600 trees from the lot, but they're a little short of that this year.

"We started with fewer trees this year than normal because the Fraser firs are just hard to get," Biele said. "I was shorted 90 trees from what I normally have. I bought some other kinds to sort of make up for it, but I'm short 50, maybe 60 trees."

Fraser firs, grown in North Carolina and Michigan, were harder to come by this year, he said, despite being a popular choice.

"It's really become the favorite Christmas tree. And about seven or eight years ago, it looked like a lot of people were going to artificial trees, and the growers just didn't plant as many," Biele said. "Now that it's back up, they're short on their number of trees."

The lot also has some Balsam firs from Michigan and Scotch pines from Nova Scotia, Canada, providing a mixture of tree options.

With the sound of drills whirring and the scent of the pine and fir needles in the air, the Optimist Club works to unwrap trees and drill holes in the bases of the trunks so they sit on stands.

The tree lot opened the Friday after Thanksgiving and will run "basically until the trees are gone," Biele said, which is typically around mid-December.

Already about half of the trees have been sold, leaving about 250 left to be purchased, Biele said late last week. Depending on the type of tree — with Scotch pines at the lower end and Fraser firs at the top — and its height, prices range anywhere from $20-$85 and up to $175 for the largest, special-order trees.

The trees range in height from about 3.5-14 feet at the tallest, though that was a special order.

"I think, this year, we had eight different trees that went from 11 foot to 14 foot," Biele said. "We just don't order those unless people say they want them."

Running the tree lot is the biggest annual fundraiser the local Optimist Club holds. The club's mission is to provide for the youth of the area.

Each year, the club, founded in 1946, gives money and time to a variety of youth projects across the city including Special Olympics Missouri, Boys and Girls State, the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City, and the Jefferson City High School Baseball Booster Club.

The boys of the JCHS baseball team help the club on the first day of the tree lot to drill holes in the trunks and get it all set up. At first, Biele said, the club donated money to the club in exchange for their help.

"We used to give them a check for their activities, and then their coach a few years ago said they no longer wanted that check because he thought the boys needed to learn you give something back," Biele said. "You don't always have to have something for what you do."

For Biele and the rest of the Optimist Club, being a "Friend of the Youth" is more than just a club motto.

"We come from a generation where we were brought up saying you've got to give something back to the community," he said. "I think that's where all these men you see (at the tree lot) — they just feel Jefferson City has been a great place for them. We've all had good jobs, and we're just wanting to give something back to the community that gave us a nice life."

After more than 60 years hosting the tree sale at the same lot, the club will have to move next year — but they won't go far. Biele said they plan to use the Hawthorn Bank parking lot across the street.

The Optimist Club tree lot will be open for at least another couple weeks, and volunteers will be there between 9 a.m.-7 p.m. each day. They accept cash or checks for the trees.

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