Photo by Wendy Howell.
Every year the community of Williams comes together in grand fashion to host a Christmas season that no one can forget. Thousands of lights are strung, the Polar Express takes off and people eagerly anticipate the coming of the holiday parade.
Far above the hubbub of town, resting quietly on a hill for all those below to see, is a lighted Christmas tree with a bright, shiny star.
The star and tree have been there so many years, most can’t remember it ever not being there.
This year, the old wooden star and lighted tree are getting a makeover just in time for the 2017 Christmas season.
“It was time to spruce it up and we decided to go whole hog and rebuild the star and the stringers,” said Lions Club member Denis Kirkley.
The Lions Club has been the unofficial keeper of the star and tree for over 70 years, and Kirkley said the refurbishing of the star and light has been on the minds of the members for many years.
“Every so often we pull the star down and do maintenance, slap a coat of paint on it,” Kirkley said. “We knew it was time to spruce it up and talking with Jay Fromm and George Watt, we agreed that with today’s technology that this might be a good time to totally rebuild it.”
Kirkley met with Williams High School welding teacher Steve Schober and asked him if the welding class would be interested in helping. Kirkley said Schober was excited and got on board right from the start.
“We like it when people bring us ideas to work on,” Schober said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s really cool to have the kids be a part of something that’s going to be in the community for a while.”
Schober said his Welding 3 class took the initiative to rebuild the star portion of the structure. The old wooden structure was brought down and Schober and his students used that as a template for a new star.
Schober and Kirkley decided aluminum would be a good material for a new star, and the advanced welding students used tungsten or TIG welding to bring the pieces together.
“They had to make sure the corners fit correctly and have the perfect star shape,” Schober said. “They have to do a lot of math, use a protractor and an angle finder.”
The old star was built out of wood with incandescent light bulbs attached. Schober said the new star will have LED lights, which require less wattage than incandescent light bulbs and will be more energy-efficient and longer lasting.
“It shouldn’t be any brighter, there will be some light that will reflect so there will be a better glow,” he said.
Kirkley said the star is attached to a telephone pole and the tree portion of the structure is actually just seven strands of wire with lights wrapped around it. He said those lights are also being replaced with the help of benefactors, and Boy Scout troop 140 is helping to rebuild the stringers that make up the tree.
“We’ve had some donations from people in town who really appreciate what the star and tree does for the town,” he said.
Kirkley said APS continues to be a big part of maintaining and erecting the star and tree each year.
“We hope to have the new star mounted on Monday morning,” Kirkley said. “APS will mount it and run a test to ensure its working.”
Although the exact date of the first implementation of the Christmas tree has yet to be unburied, a Dec. 14, 1939 Williams News story stated that S.W. Vilder was “putting up a seven-foot star with long strings of colored lights to decorate a large tree overlooking the city on the southern city limits.”
Some believe the star and lights were eventually moved to a telephone pole at some point. It is also believed that a city employee was the mastermind behind the installation that was eventually maintained by APS employee Raymond Cox, and then taken over by the late Harry Cole, also an APS employee and a member of the Williams Lions Club.
“We lived in Williams for 42 years, and each year with the help of the Lions Club and APS, the tree was lighted,” said Harry Cole’s wife, Ethel Cole, in a letter to the Williams News in 2008. “Each year as the lights came down, Harry would bring them to our house and rework all the lights and repair any parts…so they would be in shape for the coming year.”
Kirkley said the plan is for the new tree and star to be lit the evening of the Holiday Parade Nov. 25. He said he is grateful for the help of the students, APS, the Boy Scouts and the other Lions Club members in coming together to continue the tree on the hill tradition.
Schober said his students were excited to tackle the project of rebuilding the star for the community.
“Zack (Perkins) said he’ll look up at this someday when his kids are here and he’ll be able to tell them that he built that star,” he said.