Cumberland Times-News

December 24, 2013

Trees for Troops takes soldier back to his roots

Program donates thousands of trees to military members, families around the world

Angie Brant
Cumberland Times-News

— STRINGTOWN, Pa. — For more than 25 years, Pleasant Valley Tree Farm has played an important role in many area Christmas celebrations. Each year, owner Larry Ulm and his staff receive positive feedback and compliments on their efforts to help area families deck the halls. This year, a message reminded Ulm how something as simple as a Christmas tree can transform a family’s holiday celebration.

A member of the National Christmas Tree Association, Pleasant Valley donates trees each year to Trees for Troops. More than 500 farms have donated more than 122,000 trees to troops and military families throughout the world since the program’s inception in 2005.

In early December, when Ulm and his staff were preparing 25 trees to be transported through this program, Ulm tucked a brochure for Pleasant Valley in the branches of each evergreen. To his surprise, he received the following message, via the farm’s website, that touched his heart deeply.

“I am an active duty soldier in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Sill, OK, and today my family and I got one of your trees from the Trees For Troops program (your brochure was tucked in the branches). I just wanted to say thank you so much for your generosity to make it possible for me to get a tree. I actually grew up in Western Maryland, and we would get our Christmas trees from you every year, so when I read the brochure that fell out of our tree this year, my jaw hit the floor. Thank you again,” wrote Casey Jones.

Jones said, during a telephone interview, that he immediately remembered the area as the location of the farm he visited as a child with his parents and grandparents when his family lived near Hagerstown.

“I wasn’t sure about the name but I sent a picture of the brochure to my mom and she freaked out,” he said with a chuckle. “As soon as she said the name I remembered us hopping in the car for a drive to get a tree. I was astonished. Here I am 2,200 miles away and I have a tree from the same farm I went to as a kid.”

An Army specialist, Jones has been serving in the military for more than three years and has been stationed at Fort Sill for more than a year. This is the first year his family had the opportunity to participate in Trees for Troops and he is still in shock that after all of these years he will once again be celebrating the holidays with a Pleasant Valley tree.

Jones and his wife, Shelby, have a 4-year-old son, Jacob, and the family is starting its own holiday traditions, hoping to provide Jacob with the same special memories Jones treasures.

Receiving the message from Jones was a special reminder for Ulm of the importance of the Trees for Troops program. Ulm said he often thinks of the military families and how far away they are from their homes. He hopes his trees can help provide a link to special memories and be a reminder of the special season of Christmas.

 “It was a nice reminder of just why we do this. This is such a small thing that we can do for our service members and their families. These families do not have a lot of constancy in their lives and maybe these trees can be a reminder of Christmas and traditions they enjoyed at home and help them start new traditions of their own,” Ulm said. “I can remember feeling pretty homesick when I was in the Army years ago, and if a tree can help one of those men or women feel a little closer to home, we are proud to be a part of it.”

So moved by the message, Ulm shared the sentiment with his employees, including Floyd Shumaker, whom Ulm calls his “prime man.”

“This farm would not be what it is without Floyd and his family, and what made Casey’s message more special is that Floyd, too, is a veteran,” Ulm said.

 Shumaker, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said he enjoys participating in the program, preparing the trees for transport, but was especially moved to learn the name of a recipient and his ties to this area.

“What a great feeling; it just made my day,” Shumaker said.

More than 17,000 Christmas trees were distributed to more than 65 military bases, covering every branch of the military, across the U.S. and overseas during the 2013 Trees for Troops program. Ulm’s trees were among more than 325 delivered to Fort Sill.

Since 2005, more than 122,000 trees have been donated and provided to troops and military families, and FedEx has provided the inkind service of shipping these trees while logging more than 419,862 miles.

“We have been donating to the Trees For Troops program for the seven years that it’s been in existence. This year really made us realize what a great program it is,” Ulm said.

Contact Angie Brant at abrant@times-news.com.