The state Christmas tree, a concolor fir, traveled this week from a farm near St. Edward, completing its journey Thursday when it was maneuvered through the north doors of the Capitol and then hoisted to its rightful place in the Rotunda.
The state crew members who traveled to Ron and Kathy Benson's farm to cut down the tree had to leave 10 to 15 feet of it on the farm. The Capitol trees work best at 18 to 22 feet tall, said Craig Kreiner, horticulturist supervisor.
The tree will have the distinction of being the first to hold new sesquicentennial ornaments designed by Nebraska artists and reflecting the history and diversity of the state.
The lights went onto the tree Thursday and decorations will follow on Friday, in time for the 71st annual Christmas Tree Lighting and Carol Sing on Sunday.
Ron Benson, who grew up on the same land as the tree, said his dad planted the fir near his house in the late 1980s when it was about 3 feet tall. For years, Allen Benson watered the tree with a 5-gallon water bucket, his son said. Then two pivot irrigators took over the job as they passed by the tree in the summers.
"He liked trees, and it's kind of rubbed off on me. I like trees, too," Ron Benson said.
Allen Benson died in 1997, and the house burned down about 10 years later, but the tree continued to grow. Two years ago, when Ron Benson decided he wanted to take the tree down, he called state workers on a whim to ask if they wanted it. Kreiner went to St. Edward to scope out the tree, liked it and lined up the tree for the Capitol for 2018.
Ron Benson served in the Navy from 1966-1969, including two six-month deployments in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969.
The Sunday program in the Rotunda will begin at 2 p.m., preceded by the Concordia Handbell Choir at 1:30. KFOR's Charlie Brogan will be the emcee, and Pastor Tom Barber of the People's City Mission will give the invocation and benediction.
The Waverly Singers/Inspiration Middle School Show Choir and the Lincoln Public Schools All-City Girls Chorus will perform during the hourlong program, sponsored by Pinewood Bowl Inc.
Gov. Pete Ricketts will offer his 2018 Christmas holiday message, followed by the official lighting and carols.
On Dec. 11, local musicians will perform a Christmas tuba concert at noon. On Dec. 12, the Holiday Horns from the University of Nebraska School of Music will perform a noon concert of holiday music arranged for French horns.
For viewing of the tree, the Capitol is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. It will be closed on Christmas Day and New Year's Day. The tree will be up through Dec. 27.