A few years ago Barbara Theiszmann and her family were in Chicago taking in the holiday sights when she looked up at the giant Christmas tree in Daley Plaza, turned to her family and said "I have a tree better than this at home."
Now the rest of Chicago will see that as Barbara's tree, a 64-foot tall Colorado spruce, has been selected as the Chicago Christmas tree for 2012.
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Watching crews cut down and remove the tree from her front yard in Prospect Heights on Thursday morning, Theiszmann admitted she had mixed emotions.
"We watched it grow like we watched our kids grow," Theiszmann, 73, said. "I'm sad in one way to see it go. It looked beautiful here, but it will look so beautiful downtown."
The tree had overgrown its spot and was taking over part of the Theiszmanns' driveway and encroaching on the house, said Barbara's son, Tony Theiszmann. If the tree had to go, family members figured, this was a good solution.
The 12,000-pound tree will be decorated with 15,000 lights that will be turned on Nov. 20 as part of Chicago's holiday celebration.
"I think this Christmas tree exemplifies the holiday season, togetherness and family," said Mary Slowik, program director for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. "What better place for it than Daley Plaza, which is like the town center of Chicago where so many people can see it and celebrate."
Crews have been in Prospect Heights all week securing branches and getting the tree ready to move.
As the tree was loaded onto a truck and about to be driven away, several of Barbara's grandchildren grabbed pine cones from the top as keepsakes.
"Maybe we'll plant the seeds and start growing another tree," joked Barbara's daughter, Kathy Patton, who now lives in Wheaton.
Patton entered the tree into a contest to be selected for the city's Christmas tree after her mother suggested it the past few years. It was selected among 25 entries that were 55 feet or taller and within 100 miles of the Chicago Loop. Last year's tree came from Western Springs, and in 2010 it came from a family in McHenry.
The Theiszmann family has lived in Prospect Heights for 38 years and the tree has always been a part of their lives. According to the rings on the stump, the tree was at least 63 years old, a part of the neighborhood from the beginning.
Next door neighbors Sue and Dan Senne said their street won't look the same without the tree.
"It's the first thing we see when we come around the corner on our way home everyday, so it'll be sad that it's gone," Sue Senne said.
The rest of the family remembered building forts, collecting pine cones and climbing the tree when they were younger. As the years went on the tree became more work, requiring family members to clean gutters and trim branches as they encroached on the driveway, said Tony, who now lives with his family in McHenry.
The Theiszmann family celebrates every Christmas Eve at Barbara's home, and s this year won't be any different, except that everyone will be able to fit their cars in the driveway.
The family also plans to be there later this month to help Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel flip the switch to light up the Daley Center tree.
"It's going to be a great day," Patton said. "It'll be fun to see it decorated Chicago style."