During the last auction item of the night, a steady hum of casual conversations gradually faded into stunned silence, murmurs, exclamations and cheers as bids frantically rose toward $10,000. 

Those present at this year’s Depot Festival of Trees auction did not expect to see a five-figure record donation for a tree (which turned out to be a reindeer made from horseshoes). 

Many bidders fought over the display to benefit Brighter Path, a therapeutic horse program based in Cambridge City, said Emma Ullery, executive director. Eric and Becky Dimick Eastman placed the winning bid.   

“We are absolutely ecstatic and were not expecting this at all,” Ullery said. “We had a goal of breaking the highest bid record for the festival of trees but were blown away by the generosity of the crowd this year.” 

Ullery said Brighter Path board members Rhonda Power and Jessica Hovde take the reins for Brighter Path’s Festival of Trees entry and have always made fantastic creations with Cathy Brunner. 

Custom Blacksmithing by Kurt Fehrenbach created the reindeer and Jackson Farrier Supply provided horseshoes. 

Enthusiasm has been growing for the fundraiser in recent years. 

Richmond Symphony Orchestra’s longtime Festival of Trees ended many years ago, and Richmond teacher Jana Angelucci rallied friends to re-imagine the tradition benefiting several organizations. 

It returned in 2016 as a silent auction called Depot Festival of Trees. Live auctions began in 2021, raising $10,900 that year and $18,900 in 2022. 

This year, 17 local nonprofits received a total of $35,000. Beyond Brighter Path, participants were Birth to Five, A Better Way, Safety Village, Every Child Can Read, Meridian Health Services, Good News Habitat for Humanity, Abilities Richmond, Starr-Gennett Foundation, Main Street Richmond, The Reid Center, Cope Environmental Center, Whiskers Rescue and Foster, Girls Inc., Sunrise, Reid Health Community Benefit and Richmond Neighborhood Restoration. 

Angelucci, Tracie Robinson, Deborah Brown, Norene Groth and Maria Haber served on this year’s committee. Roger Richert was auctioneer and Marty Hancock was emcee.

Committee members obtain corporate and personal sponsors and give each nonprofit $200 toward tree supplies. Nonprofits then receive the full auction bid.

Robinson said nonprofits have become more and more creative each year with their displays. 

“It’s become an event that the community looks forward to each year and is a terrific way for the community and our committee to give back to some of the nonprofits that provide so much to us and have a positive impact on our entire local area,” Robinson said. 

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A version of this article appeared in the December 20 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.