Simpson conferences team hosts first annual festival of trees contest


Shelby McCasland

This year, Student Development began a festival of trees competition to spread holiday cheer.

by Shelby McCasland, Staff Reporter

Staff, faculty and students are getting more of the holiday mood than usual in Kent this year. The upper floor railing is lined with a variety of trees. Many different campus offices and groups signed up to decorate themed trees for the contest.

Director of Conferences/Events and Catering Ben Nielsen came up with the idea for the holiday tree contest. He wanted to bring more festivities to campus to bring the community together.

“I just wanted to get the campus together to do something, and this was a way to get faculty, staff and students to enjoy the holiday season,” Nielsen said.

While the theme of trees is traditionally tied to the title “Christmas Tree”, the festival of trees was designed to allow anyone of any faith to celebrate and decorate in any way.  The festival was created to get groups involved that hadn’t been able to hold as many activities due to COVID-19.

“I called it the festival of trees so anybody could do it. It was more about the fact that we haven’t been able to do anything on campus because of the COVID stuff,” Nielsen said.

Professor of Teacher Education Barb Ramos led the efforts behind the “Polar Express” themed Education Department tree. Ramos set up a group of interested members from the department and they began brainstorming the theme.

“We tossed around several different ideas. Of course, the obvious was to put school supplies on the tree. We all love children’s literature, and ‘Polar Express’ is kind of a standard,” Ramos said.

The admissions department also participated in the festival led by Admissions Counselor Kerry Stecker.  They went with a Marvel comic theme for their tree.

“I have two boys, and we’re a Marvel family and so I just thought that would be kind of a fun-themed tree. We had a lot of the supplies at home already and it just went from there,”  Stecker said.

The festival was easy to put together for most participants. Many of the trees have items and décor that came from the homes of faculty and staff. Members of the education department found ornaments made for faculty by a staff member from Christmases past.  The large bells on the tree tie in a little bit of Simpson tradition.  These small home-like touches make the trees extra special.

“Everybody just started digging through their Christmas decorations that they don’t always use. We found almost everything from our Christmas bins at home,” Ramos said.

All of the staff and faculty were excited to enter this year’s contest. There are high hopes that the festival will be returning for years to come.

“It was pretty quick, simple and easy. I call it the first annual with hopes that it will continue, and I think there’s going to be more people that want to do it next year,” Nielsen said.

For many of the groups, the personal connections were the best part of participating.

“After COVID-19 and a couple of really stressful years, we were really excited to see the opportunity to do something as a group that was just fun and lighthearted,” Ramos said.