By Natalie Nohr | Contributor
President Eugene Habecker and First Lady Marylou Habecker will light the Christmas tree at the Upland Depot Tree-Lighting ceremony on Sunday at 5 p.m. at the town depot.
Along with the tree-lighting and a Santa Claus appearance for kids, the night includes free hot cocoa, cider and holiday desserts provided by The Bridge, said Warren Ross, Upland town council member. The ceremony also features Taylor's Night Lights quartet and Big Al and the Jungle Cats, according to Music Department Chair Al Harrison.
Town Council Vice President Chip Jaggers said each year the council selects honorary tree-lighters who have influenced the community of Upland.
This year the council chose the Habeckers.
"They have been a wonderful force for good in (relations) between the university and town of Upland," Jaggers said.
The Habeckers said they are honored to have been offered this opportunity.
"I've never been (asked) to light a tree before. It's a first," Marylou said. "Really when you look at who does that kind of stuff, like the White House, or at any other special community...that's a really special honor. We don't take it lightly, we're very humbled by it and surprised."
Jaggers is grateful for the contributions the Habeckers have made to Upland. Under Habecker's leadership, Taylor has assisted with the Upland Strategic Master Plan, provided equipment, shared land and offered help through Community Plunge, according to Jaggers.
Habecker said it is necessary for a place like Upland to create traditions that set the town apart from other communities.
"It's easy for a small town to get lost in the traditions of other communities, and because of that reality, people tend to overlook the small town and go elsewhere," Habecker said.
Jaggers said that the tree lighting ceremony is intended to be a tradition that allows Upland to stand its ground among larger cities.
According to Jaggers, the first tree lighting was put on by Our Town Upland 23 years ago, in anticipation of the historic train depot returning to town. That year, 150 people showed up to celebrate, according to Ross.
"(We thought) let's give our town a sense of place, a feeling of 'downtown' and help our town celebrate Christmas," Jaggers said. "It's a source of pride."
From the beginning, Jaggers wanted the tree lighting to be an event that carried from one generation to the next. Jaggers said so far that has been the case; parents who grew up attending the festivities are now bringing their own children.
The first lady said it is important for the community to continue growing, even as Upland continues to uphold its traditions.
"It's not just for the past, it's not just for the present, but it's for future generations that come to live in the area as more development happens," Marylou said. "We need each other. We need a strong community, and they need our strength as well."
She said that the community continues to stand behind Taylor students.
Support between Taylor and the community goes two ways. According to Marylou, both have something to contribute.
"(Taylor is an) intentional community, which we all know," Marylou said. "But it's intentional to live in Upland as well."
Habecker said he has seen much growth in Upland since his and Marylou's time as Taylor students in 1964, with the addition of several community services and businesses.
"We're very positive about the town of Upland's future. We'll celebrate with great delight and . . . some sense of pride," Habecker said.
Jaggers hopes that students will attend the tree lighting to celebrate with the town.
He is expecting the biggest turnout in the event's history, due to an increase in promotion of the event, and the participation of Taylor's musical groups, along with The Bridge's catering contributions.
"Warren and I believe this has the potential to be the best Christmas tree lighting ever," Jaggers said.