Out of over 400 fourth-grade applicants across the state of West Virginia, Ethan Reese, a 4-Her from Randolph County, was selected to light the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree this year.
After being introduced as “the pride of West Virginia,” Reese flipped on the lights for the Christmas tree during a lighting ceremony Tuesday evening to a countdown of “five, four, three, two, one!”
U.S. Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, and his wife, Kelly, stood beside the 4-Her as he lit the 63-foot Norway spruce that was harvested earlier from the Greenbrier Ranger District in the Monongahela National Forest in Randolph County. The tree is adorned with over 5,000 ornaments decorated by West Virginia 4-H youth and volunteers.
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Reese’s connection to the 4-H organization runs deep. With decades of 4-H volunteer history in his family and his aunt, Hannah Fincham, acting as a 4-H Extension Agent and associate professor, Reese was honored to light the tree yesterday in a ceremony at the Capitol.
However, it’s not just 4-H that Reese has a connection to. The Monongahela National Forest, where another 4-H family raised this year’s Capitol tree, is also generational.
Reese’s grandmother happens to be a retired history teacher (and 40-year 4-H volunteer leader), so when the opportunity came up to write an essay about the forest, Reese called her up. Reese’s great-great-grandfather, Arthur Wood, became Superintendent of the Monongahela National Forest in 1931.
“He set a plan in motion to plant millions of trees to rebuild the forest for future generations,” Reese wrote in his winning essay. “Thanks to those efforts, I am lucky my generation knows the Mountain State as one covered in endless trees and Wonderful wildflowers and home to many wild animals.”
Those mountains are something that Reese’s family has taken advantage of, spending time identifying flowers, plants, and birds. This year, Reese’s 4-H project will focus on birds.
Amanda Reese, Ethan’s mom, told AGDAILY, “We’re proud to be here, representing not just 4-H, but our schools and communities in our country and our states.”
For this year’s essay contest, fourth-grade students were invited to describe in 500 words why they love West Virginia’s forests and public lands, incorporating the 2023 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree theme: “Endlessly Wild & Wonderful.”
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin selected Ethan to receive a once-in-a-lifetime all-expenses paid trip for him and one guardian to travel to Washington, D.C., to take part in the official tree-lighting ceremony alongside members of Congress and the public.
The Capitol Christmas Tree — known as “The People’s Tree” — lights up the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol during the holiday season and is selected from a different national forest each year, a tradition that began in 1970 when Monongahela National Forest provided the first tree on behalf of the Forest Service.
Reese traveled to the district for the tree’s harvest earlier this month in West Virginia. The tree was driven on a truck to D.C., making about 25 stops along the way.
Today, Reese will tour the Capitol, meeting with the Speaker of the House and other officials.
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