Photo by Dermot Connolly
Joan Murtaugh, of Palos Hills, watches as Worth Lions Kevin Salkeld (center) and Steve Werner secure her new tree on the roof of her car after buying it in the tree lot at 116th and Harlem Avenue.
By Dermot Connolly
Business was booming at the Worth Lions Club Christmas tree lot on Saturday afternoon as people took advantage of the relatively warm weather to buy their trees.
“The weather has been good, so we have been pretty busy since we opened after Thanksgiving,” said Greg Mazak, the chairman of the committee in charge of tree sales.
“We started the whole thing with tree sales as a fundraiser in 1953, when our chapter was founded. All the others copied us,” said Mazak, referring to the Palos Lions, which has a lot at 127 th and Harlem, and the Orland Park Lions, which sells trees at 147 th Street and Ravinia Avenue during the Christmas season. The three chapters have a friendly competition each year over tree sales.
“Each chapter has to come up with its own fundraisers. We don’t get anything from Lions Club International. All the money raised goes back into our programs,” Mazak explained.
“I think we have the largest tree lot in Illinois,” said Mazak, a 20-year member of the Lions Club as he looked out on the tree lot at 116 th Street and Harlem Avenue at the entrance to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District property known as Waterfall Park. The lot becomes a virtual forest of evergreen trees of various sizes and varieties, including balsam firs and Scotch pines.
“We can display about 450 trees here — maybe more but construction equipment is taking up part of the site. We will sell more than 1,000 trees this year,” predicted Steve Werner, another Lions Club member and husband of Worth Mayor Mary Werner.
In addition to trees, the Worth Lions Club also sells fresh wreaths. This year, clients of the Park Lawn social service agency decorated some of the wreaths, and the Lions Club will give the money from those sales back to Park Lawn, which provides services for people with developmental disabilities.
As Mazak and Werner said, all the funds raised by the Worth Lions Club goes toward helping local residents in different ways.
“It all benefits the community,” said Werner.
In addition to continuing the tradition of providing glasses and vision care for the underprivileged that the Lions Club was founded on in 1917, the Worth Lions also donate to food pantries, and also provide several scholarships to high school and college for students at local schools. A dinner for blind veterans at Hines VA Hospital is also held annually.
It is the idea of donating to the charity that many people cited for buying their trees there on Saturday.
“I’ve been coming here for many years, because they help the community. They always take good care of us, and I would rather come here than go to Menards or Home Depot to get it,” said Mike Cozek, of Oak Lawn, who came with his sons, Charlie and Brayden.
“It is always fun picking up the Christmas tree,” said Charlie, as the Lions tied the tree to the roof of the car, and handed out candy canes to the kids.
“They’re a staple of the community,” said Heide Burke, of Oak Lawn, after picking out her tree and watching as the Lions trimmed the trunk. One after another, trees were tied to roofs, put in the back of pick-ups, or even in the back seat of a car in one case.
“We have generations of people coming here. That is nice to see, the kids growing up and coming back for trees of their own,” said Mazak.
“We love the variety of trees here, and it all goes for the charity,” said Joan Murtaugh of Palos Hills, who bought a tree with her husband, Terry.
Victor Carpio was heading home to Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood when he decided to buy a tree this year.
“I work in Orland Park, so it is on my way home,” said Carpio.
The tree lot is typically open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily until the supply is sold.