The History of the Fremont UMC Christmas Tree Lot

The Christmas Tree sale is one of Fremont UMC’s most important fund-raising and outreach programs and has been for over 25 years. This is the story of how it got started in 1993 and how it continues to this day. It is a story about a special relationship we have with our tree supplier, Pedro, and the hard work many at Fremont have contributed over the years.

In 1993, Fremont had a church member named Jane Jones. Jane’s father, “Doc” Storie was a veterinarian in Molalla. He owned some land that he was planning to sell for development. The land contained a large tree farm that had been somewhat neglected at the time. Doc offered the trees to us to sell if we wanted them as long as we would cut them and haul them away. He knew a young man by the name of Pedro who could cut them for us.

The first year, church member Stan Tonneson took the leadership for the project. He arranged with Pedro to do the cutting, and rented a large truck to go to Molalla and bring about 500 trees back to the church. Fremonters unloaded all 500 trees into the alley behind the church. For the sale, we brought about 50 at a time to the front lawn and leaned them against the building. Within a few weeks, they were all sold.

The second year (1994), there were still quite a few trees left on Doc Storie’s property, but some were irregular and would not be easy to sell. Jane and Mark Cotton with Pat and Bob Powell drove out to Molalla to tag the trees that we wanted. Stan had again arranged for the truck. Pedro cut and loaded the tagged trees onto the truck.

Pedro mentioned he knew where there were some nice Grand Firs and asked if we wanted them too. Mark said yes, so some Grands were cut and added to the order for that year. Mark says they were some of the most perfect Grand Firs he had ever seen. Those Grand Firs came from the property of Cindy Raffaell where Pedro did some work. Cindy appreciated Pedro’s strong work ethic and they developed a partnership that helped Pedro grow his business.

The third year (1995), there were no remaining trees available on Doc Storie’s property, but Pedro knew where he could get some others. Church member Dave Looney joined Mark Cotton and drove the largest Penske truck they could find to Molalla where Pedro and crew loaded it with a variety of tree species from different properties.

Starting in 1995, Jane and Mark Cotton took over the leadership of the tree sales and continued to do that through 2006. Jane did all the scheduling, Mark led the setup, sales, financial transactions, and communication with Pedro. Church members provided lots of help which included bringing home made cookies, which were Pedro’s favorite. After unloading a truck load of trees, Pedro would often grab a cookie and a cup of cocoa or coffee and help sell trees to waiting customers. He liked to interact with the customers and took pride in the trees he provided.

Dave Looney played a large role in the early years. It was Dave’s suggestion that 10% of the proceeds should be given to the Northeast Emergency Food Program, which we still do today. It was also at Dave’s insistence that the fresh cuts on the bottom of the trees should be done by hand with a bow saw. Those of us who helped in those years got a good muscle on our arm from all the sawing.

Neil Davidson also played a large role. In addition to taking the early sales shift each weekday, Neil mailed (at his expense) a flyer to each of the previous year’s customers who had written us a check. This helped us to build many repeat customers from one year to the next.

One constant since the beginning has been the ongoing help of Sherm Grate. Sherm has helped with the construction and take-down of the frames to lean the trees against. He provides the expertise to tie them to the ground so they won’t fall over from the weight of the trees. Sherm even brings his home-made chocolate chip cookies to share with the rest of the construction team.

Jane and Mark instilled in us the concept of being full service operation. Starting with the showing of the tree, we would trim it, add a fresh cut on the bottom, load it on their vehicle, tie it down, and wish them a Merry Christmas. In some cases, Mark would deliver trees to those who couldn’t take their own. And in a few cases he even hauled them inside the customer’s home and set them in a tree stand.

Pedro Muñoz Sanchez grew up in Guadalajara Mexico and came to Molalla when he was in his twenties. He worked for many tree farmers but one special one was Cindy Raffaell. As Cindy and Pedro were building the tree business together, they fell in love and got married.

Pedro wanted to become a US citizen but was having some difficulty doing so. He shared that problem with Dave Looney who happened to work in the legal system. Dave was able to help Pedro clear the remaining hurdles. In the year 2000, Dave and his wife Shawn, Jane and Mark, joined Cindy and Pedro for the swearing-in ceremony at the convention center where Pedro and a hundred other candidates became US citizens. Mark said it was a Great Day!

Jane and Mark retired from leadership after the 2006 season. In 2007, Beth Skillern and John Shapland took over the leadership functions and continue to serve today (in 2020). Beth does the scheduling and takes care of the financial matters. John works on the lot almost every day and runs the sale. Together they communicate with Pedro and place the orders. Cotton’s daughter Trina Leschber and her husband Allan lead the setup and take down of the tree lot as well as the spreading and removal of the bark chips to protect the lawn.

We are developing a new generation of leaders. For the 2020 sale, Jeff Schmied designed the layout we used for COVID protection to minimize close contact between workers and customers. Jeff spent many full days working on the lot to help lighten the load for John Shapland. My wife, Donna Leslie, has joined Beth Skillern to count the trees as they come off the delivery truck. Charlie Collier brought us new technology that allowed us to take credit card payments for the first time.

Pedro and Cindy are now very successful in the tree business. They cut and ship about 50,000 trees each year, including the ~1000 he provides to us.

However, Pedro’s passion is breeding, training, and showing some very special horses. The ranch where he and Cindy live is named Rancho Tres Potrillos (Three Colts Ranch). This is a destination equestrian center where he trains horses to perform and invites visitors to come see them. Pedro breeds the valuable Andalusian, Azteca, and Friesian horses and teaches them to dance with him riding in the saddle. Pedro has performed in rodeos and has been featured in the Rose Festival Parade.

Our relationship with Pedro goes back many years and we treasure it greatly. He has been very generous with his support for us, and we have been generous with our support to him. We hope to continue this relationship for many years to come.

The tree sale has always been a large group effort and has been successful because of the hard work and contributions of many volunteers within (and even some outside) the congregation, including the scouts from Troop 100. There is a task for everyone: constructing the lot, unloading the deliveries, serving the customers, and providing important support functions. Working together, we make new friends and get to know our old friends better. We know the sale is a positive outreach activity for us to interact with people in the neighborhood, proven by the large number of repeat customers.

Several key people have been mentioned in this story, but there are likely many more that I have not mentioned. If I missed an important contribution or detail, please let me know and I will add it to the story.

Thanks, Kirk Wimmer

Updated December 2021