Family reclaims holiday tradition

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The late Walter Webber is remembered for his many gifts to Steamboat Springs -- he helped bring a TV signal to the town and also was the first to light up the Routt County Courthouse at Christmastime.

But he is perhaps most fondly recalled for topping his electrical truck with a large, brightly lit Christmas tree and distributing popcorn balls and candy to children on Christmas Eve.

Webber's warm gesture planted a seed of holiday spirit that continued after his family passed on the tradition more than 30 years ago.

The "Roving Christmas Tree" has delighted many children and adults throughout Routt County, but Webber's family was perhaps most enchanted with the tradition, which became an inherent part of their Christmas celebrations.

Webber's giving spirit still runs strong among his grandchildren Cindy Wright of Hayden and Alan Webber of Craig, who this year decided to bring the Roving Tree back to the family.

Just like the old days, the two have recruited family and friends to dress up as Santa Claus and his elves, hand out candy and decorate two big Christmas trees that will roam the streets of Hayden on Dec. 24.

The family doesn't have to go far for inspiration: Wright has two thick binders of memorabilia and old newspaper stories about her grandfather's accomplishments and contributions.

"Grandpa was one of the most giving people I've ever known," Wright said, flipping through the pages. "He loved people, and he loved giving to the community."

The Roving Tree actually started as several little trees attached to the top of Webber's electrical truck in 1938.

Eventually, Webber would spend weeks covering his truck with pine boughs, topping it off with one giant decorated tree and large speakers that spread carols throughout town.

Newspaper clippings recall how Webber hand-dipped the white lights in special paints in the days before colored lights.

Some years, the roving tree was so tall that the telephone and electrical companies raised their lines so it could pass underneath.

Helen Duncan of Craig, one of six of Webber's children, remembers long days making popcorn balls. One year, friends and families made almost 900 of the treats.

"Daddy thought a lot of Christmas and wanted to share what he had," she said.

By the 1970s, Steamboat and the Roving Tree outgrew the Webber family, and they passed it on to the Steamboat Springs Lions Club. The organization continued the tradition, expanding its territory to Hayden and Oak Creek, until the mid-1980s.

It then came to Hayden, where various organizations made it happen throughout the years.

The last organization to handle the Roving Tree was the 4-H Critter Club, which usually held the event before Christmas Eve because of volunteer availability.

The club's reorganization this year was an opportunity for the family to reclaim the Roving Tree as a Christmas Eve tradition.

"We were glad the community was taking on the tradition, but we wanted to be part of it," Wright said.

Family members in the Yampa Valley and other areas were quick to volunteer and offer support: Wright has even received donations from relatives she's never met.

"It's really pulling our whole family together," she said.

The community also is helping to make the Roving Tree happen. The West Routt Fire Department purchased the candy, and the Goodtime 4-H Club recently made 400 bundles of the sweets for Hayden children.

Anyone is welcome to help with the Roving Tree. Call Wright at 276-4446.

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