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whitehouse_120One of the perks of being president is that you get to visit the President's house.  That is, the President of the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) gets to be part of the delegation that brings the official tree to the White House.  This year that meant that Lansing"s Richard Moore and his wife Kay got to go.  Moore is serving his first term as President of the NCTA, just as Barack Obama is serving his first term in Washington.  The Moores helped present a tree from Crystal Spring Tree Farm in Lehighton, PA to First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters Sasha and Malia last Friday.

"Having a real tree is part of the fabric of having our Christmas and holiday celebrations," Moore says.  "It's a great honor for the White House to accept the tree."

The Moores went to Washington a few days early to meet their two daughters and their families for Thanksgiving, while son Jason stayed home to run the tree farm.  To get into the White House the Moores had to provide background information a few weeks in advance.  On Friday they drove through three security gates, and their car was given the once-over by bomb-sniffing dogs, and saw snipers on the roof as they entered the premises.

"I'm glad they have that degree of protection," he says.  "It's just one of the realities for the First Family.  But once we were through Security we were presumed to be clean."

mtf_moores2Richard and Kay Moore

Once they passed through Security they were met by executive aides who guided them through the event, first in a room used for diplomats where the Moores met Michelle Obama and her daughters, then outside for the official arrival of the tree, and finally back inside for a reception.  In past years the President has dropped in for the tree presentation, but after a basketball injury the following week, President Obama had 12 stitches after his lip met a flying elbow.  Moore says Obama watched the presentation on the White House drive through an upstairs window while nursing his lip with an ice pack.

"Fortunately he wasn't hit by a Republican!" Moore laughs. 

mtf_treearrivesFirst Lady Michelle Obama, and daughters Sasha and Malia, welcome the arrival of the official White House Christmas tree at the North Portico of the White House, Nov. 26, 2010. Standing with them are Chris and Brandi Botek of the Crystal Spring Tree Farm in Leighton, Pa., where the 19 1/2-foot Douglas fir was cut. The Moores and other NCTA officials were at left where photographers captured the event. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Each year members of the NCTA compete at the organization's national convention, with trees judged on size, the trimmed six to twelve inch 'handle' on the base of the tree that can fit into a stand, .  First you must win a state competition, and those winners get to compete for the national prize.

This year's convention was in Winston-Salem, NC at the end of January.  Their 8' Colorado Blue Spruce won them the grand championship and the honor of providing the tree for the Blue Room in the White House.  The Boteks also won in 2006, making them one of only five farms that won more than once since the NCTA began the tradition during the Johnson administration.

The NCAT delegation consisted of the Moores, NCTA officials, and Christopher Botek, who came with three generations of his family to present the tree grown on their farm to the First Lady.  The 19 ½  foot Douglas fir was hand picked on the Boteks' farm on Sept. 28 by Director of the Executive Residence and White House Chief Usher Stephen Rochon and Superintendent of Grounds Dale Haney.  Moore wanted the spotlight to be on the Boteks, so he held back during most of the reception.

"I knew there were certain things I wanted to talk to Mrs. Obama about," Moore says.  "She was very nice, talking to the children.  Her children talked to the other children.  As we were leaving to take the picture I thought I'd better make my move, because I didn't think she was coming back after the tree presentation."

First there was a bit of Ivy League competition -- Moore, a retired Cornell professor, teased that he thought Cornell is more intensive than Princeton.  He told her that his daughter is a Princeton alumna, as is the First Lady.  Obama told him that one of her professors in Chicago, Jeffrey Lehman, went on to become President of Cornell.

What Moore really wanted to talk about was NCTA's 'Trees for Troops' initiative.  Last year Trees for Troops delivered 16,651 Christmas trees to 54 U.S. military bases encompassing five military branches, including 280 trees that were sent abroad.  700 tree farms from 29 states donated trees.  In the past five years 66,733 trees were delivered.

mtf_TaylorGrahamIn mid-November 22 Chirstmas Trees were sent from Moore Tree Farm to Afghanistan. William Taylor (left) and Nicholas Graham (second from left in front of plane) were among the recipients.

Obama said she wanted to learn more so she can help with the effort.  She gave Moore contact information, and he sent her details as well as an invitation to join NCTA officials as they present trees at some of the military bases, which he says would be great, but they are not depending on that.

"At this time of year I'm sure she's very busy," he says. 

Moore says that when white house officials learned his grandchildren were in town they gave him the rest of the cookies to take back to the hotel.  They also invited the delegation back a few days before Christmas to see the tree fully decorated.  Moore is not sure whether they will be able to go, as that is the end of the busy season for Christmas tree farms.  If they do go they will be among 100,000 people who come to the White House to see the decorations over a three week period this month.

"It was a great honor for the Botek family," Moore says.  "The people who win once always compete.  They want to win and go again.  It's a very nice tradition in its 45th year of helping the White House celebrate this season.  It's like apple pie, Chevrolet, and motherhood."

White House Photographer Lawrence Jackson took this video
showing the White House Christmas tree being decorated

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