News

Silverdale tree lighting takes on new meaning

By AARON MANAGHAN

Sports editor

While the Silverdale Christmas tree lighting has long been a staple for Central Kitsap residents to kick off the holiday season, the event took on an even greater meaning this year.

Because for the more than 100 kids who showed up, one couldn’t.

The Silverdale Christmas tree lighting was dedicated to the memory of Nate McKean, a 5-year-old Silverdale boy who died in June, the result of stage-four neuroblastoma, a form of cancer he was diagnosed with at the age of 2.

As a result, the tree was named Nate’s Tree in his memory.

“Just making that dedication,” Bill Seelow, who has helped maintain the tree for more than 50 years, said. “That meant a lot to the family.”

The McKean family, including parents Navy chief petty officer and father Mike McKean and mother Abra, siblings Mikey, Shelby and Kinsey, and a host of extended family were in attendance for the dedication Saturday, as the tree lighting was one of Nate’s favorite events, according to Richard Leenstra Sr., who made the dedication moments before the countdown to the lighting.

After a heart-felt applause from the crowd following the dedication warmed up a chilly Saturday night, the countdown commenced and the tree was lit.

“It went off really good tonight,” Seelow said.

Hundreds turned out for the annual holiday event, which not only brings the community together but also its service groups.

The Silverdale Rotary pays for the lighting, supplies and electricity, the Silverdale Dandy Lions maintain the tree and fix and hang the lights, the Silverdale Kiwanis purchase candy canes for the kids, as well as beverages and snacks for the event, and the Central Kitsap Kiwanis host Santa’s visit for the children in attendance.

“It works beautifully,” Ron Meyers, a Silverdale Kiwanis member, said. “We do other things together as well, but at Christmas time, this one’s really special.”

Meyers said although the groups work on a variety of events throughout the year, each of the service groups look forward to this specific event.

“We do, every year. We really look forward to this,” he said. “Every year it’s just being able to see the people. And seeing the kids out. It’s why we exist.”

Many in attendance caught the lighting for the first time, like Scott and Kim Peck, whose son Logan sang in the Brownsville Elementary School choir, led by Shirley Jenkins. Their daughter Lauren also was in attendance.

“It’s fun just watching the community come out,” said Scott Peck, the athletic trainer at Olympic High School. “It’s a great tradition. And it’s something for the kids.”

Others saw the tree lighting for the first time on both sides, like Alex Mayer, a 19-year-old Olympic College student who graduated from Central Kitsap High School. A former Key Club member, Mayer decided to continue her community service with the Kiwanis.

“I just want to give back to the community,” she said, adding she too enjoyed her first tree lighting. “I just like coming out and helping out in whatever way I can. “It’s nice. I like it.”

For other families, it marked the return of an ongoing tradition.

For the Brown family, from Lake Symington, it was the first time for 9-month-old Genevieve, who got a candy cane from Santa shortly after his arrival via a Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue engine. But mom Lauren and dad Kevin have a long history of coming to the tree lighting, as they also have a 22-year-old daughter (Bernadette), a 15-year-old son (Andrew) and a 6-year-old son (Evan).

“We’ve been here every year for the last 15,” Lauren said. “Since she was 6 years old. Now we’ve got another 6-year-old coming again this year. It really connects them even though they don’t live together.”

As for Jenkins, she said helping out at the festivities with her group of Brownsville fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders never gets old.

“It’s fun to help them create those memories,” she said. “Some will come here with their kids.”

And after all, making those kinds of connections are what the holidays are all about, Jenkins said.

“For every one of us, when we go by on the freeway and see that tree, we get to be a part of that,” she said. “We were there. It helps bring the holiday into everybody’s household.”

And that’s something that never gets old to Seelow either.

“The tree, it’s something that’s always been here, as long as I can remember,” he said. “I can’t imagine Silverdale without the tree. When that time of year comes around, it gets you started on the holiday season.”

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