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New London heeds call to beautify barren Parade Plaza Christmas tree

By Karen Florin

Publication: theday.com

Published December 14. 2013 2:00PM   Updated December 15. 2013 6:41PM
Dana Jensen/The Day
Anthony Nolan holds the ladder while Dawn Koonce hangs an ornament on the Christmas tree located on the Parade in downtown New London Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013.

New London - More than 30 local residents heeded the call this afternoon to beautify the barren city Christmas Tree, bringing bulbs, bows and candy canes to Parade Plaza while leaving their political differences at home.

An hour later, the bottom third of the tree was properly decorated, and the ad hoc Trim the Community Tree committee had a promise from Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio that a public works crew, which had been diverted to snow storm duty, would return Sunday or Monday with a ladder to hang ornaments on the hard-to-reach areas and install a tree topper.

"This is nice, because every time I drive by, I'm like, this poor tree needs something," said Terri Loring, who brought sparkly sticks and two grandchildren to the event.

Donated by Pat and Michael Diodato of Uncasville, the tree was initially decorated only with a couple of mismatched strands of light, and its lack of flair quickly became a conversation in the City Council chambers and on social media.

Earlier this week, after Days arts writer Rick Koster wrote a column about the tree and appeared in a video hanging a large red bulb, stirring residents to action.

City resident Dennis Downing said he saw Koster's video and thought, 'He can't have all the fun.' ''

"I bought five ornaments and said to my wife, put this on Facebook. And the rest is history," he said.

The chain reaction that occurred then is unclear, but it appears Downing called resident Sue Plunkett, who called former City Councilor Marie Friess McSparran, who created the "Trim the Community Christmas Tree" on Facebook.

The mayor announced a short time later that he, too, was not a fan of the tree and recruited the Public Works crew to help reach the higher spots. The City Center District donated extra lights for the tree, which were installed earlier this week.

Fire Chief Henry Kydd collected Toys for Tots and also took custody of the ornaments and tree topper that eventually will be installed when a crew with a ladder is freed up.

McSparran hung two giant bulbs- one green and one gold to represent the city's sports colors - and said she hoped the gathering would become an annual tradition. The mayor showed up in a green and gold scarf and added his own piece of flair to the tree.

"It's bringing people together who normally don't hang out," McSparran said. "Both sides of the political spectrum."

Rob Sherlin, manager of the Greyhound bus depot across the street saw the small crowd gathering and grabbed a ladder. He held it for City Councilor and police officer Anthony Nolan, who reached some of the higher spots.

"When they first put it up, I'm like, 'What is that, a Christmas bush?' '' Sherlin said. "I love to see the community coming out and putting stuff up."

Dawn Koonce supplied the tree topper, a star-like ornament made of silver and white pipe cleaners. With the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting on her mind, she said she used 27 white pipe cleaners to symbolize those lost in Newtown, including the shooter's mother, Nancy Lanza.

Bunny Devendittis, co-owner of Dev's Restaurant on Bank Street, brought several staff members and her daughter Candace, who served hot chocolate with whipped cream to the shivering crowd.

Devendittis said she was happy to see the tree coming together "after all the hoopla."

"I wish Mother Nature would have cooperated a little more," Devendittis said.

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