The story behind Gilroy’s Christmas Tree

Locals supported a professional tree installing crew Monday night as they assembled Gilroy’s downtown Christmas Tree. Phil Buchanan and his wife Joan held flashlights and helped line the tree pieces up at Fifth and Monterey streets.

Since 1972, when he missed a Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors meeting and got assigned an unwanted task, Phil Buchanan, 79, has worked on putting up Gilroy’s downtown Christmas Tree and banners.

But what started as an unexpected chore, has become a real labor of love for the retired dentist and his wife, Joan, who was the city’s woman of the year in 2015 for her community service.

They were out there again Monday night, helping a professional crew install the artificial tree that’s been part of the celebration for the past 17 years. It usually takes two hours but took five hours this year to put the pieces together because the company that helps, Sierra Display, of Fresno, didn’t have the bucket truck it usually uses. It was broken down and they had to put it up with a ladder.

“It’s a way to give something to the people,” said Joan. “This year was really difficult.”

Her husband teaches dentistry at University of the Pacific in San Francisco, after having a Gilroy practice for years.

They switched to an artificial tree a decade ago because it was easier than getting a fresh one in a truck and delivered. The current 22-foot tree is stored by Sierra Display and has its decorations on the pieces that fit together on a steel frame.

Phil had put up banners in the years the city used a real tree, but he stepped up in 2000 when they started using the artificial one.

Volunteers and the city put up decorations for years but now it’s done by Sierra Display, which is paid $5,000 a year by the Chamber of Commerce, which is funded by the city, according to Phil.

Banners have replaced a lot of the garlands and decorations the city used to use.

Before Sierra Display took over, the Buchanans would store all of the decorations and ask Eagle Scouts to help maintain them and bring them out for the holidays.

Now, Joan and Downtown Business Association President Gary Walton add fresh decorations every year.

“We’re really proud of it,” said Phil. “Other cities don’t decorate the way we do.”

Walton paid tribute to the couple as they stood out in the cold Monday night and returned Tuesday to do more.

“They’ve been involved trying to make it a better community for a long time,” said Gary Walton, president of the Downtown Business Association, who also helped.

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