An annual ritual took on an added bit of spirit Monday at Second and State streets.

Every year at this time, City of Hood River Public Works, Pacific Power and DeHart Excavation team up to deliver and set up the 50-foot Christmas tree at Overlook Memorial Park, readying the town center for the annual holiday lighting ceremony on December’s First Friday.

Usually, whatever audience is there for the raising might be passersby, motorists who are detoured around the intersection, or folks going up or down the Second Street stairs.

This year, the 10-man crew had a larger audience: Residents of Hawk’s Ridge Assisted Living, and clients in Providence Health System’s Sunshine Club, which provides activities for memory-impaired people in the community.

“Some of those folks, it means so much to them,” said Dale Huskey, aka Santa Claus. “Some of them feel like little kids again.”

Huskey, a long-time trucker for DeTour and for City of The Dalles, drove to the scene dressed in his Santa suit and joined two elves — Tonya DeHart and Kristen Helms — and The Grinch, Tony DeHart, in greeting the folks on the buses, parked across the street at City Hall.

Some friends and families with kids came out to watch the action and get an early Santa preview. The red-decked chief elf passed out candy canes while Helms and DeHart poured cider and coffee and handed out cookies in the City Hall driveway.

After the DeHart crew delivered the tree, Pacific Power hoisted it off the flatbed and set it upright, while power company and public works employees set the thick trunk into the tree stand and ran guide wires from the top and middle of the tree to anchoring points on the plaza.

The tree was cut “right about where the sidewalk ends,” on county land on Binns Hill Drive.

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