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“Mr. Frank” Tree gets new honor as 2023’s Capitol Holiday Tree

Katie Thoresen
People use ropes to tuck in the branches this year's Capitol Holiday Tree. The 16ft wide tree needed to fit on a trailer for the drive from Rhinelander to Madison.

Marge Van Heuklon has always admired the giant balsam fir in the front yard of the Rhinelander house she moved into five years ago.

“I thought it was a very handsome tree,” she said.

But recently, that was all she could admire.

“It has just grown so large. When I look out my front window, I can't see anything except the tree,” said Van Heuklon.

Katie Thoresen
Marge Van Heuklon stands beside the giant balsam fir in her front yard before it was cut down.

Two years ago, Van Heuklon started looking into getting it removed, but the idea of it just becoming mulch or firewood didn’t sit well with her.

“It's such a beautifully shaped tree, and so many people felt strongly about it that I'd like to see it go this way, versus mulch or being made into wreaths or something like that,” said Van Heuklon.

The strong feelings come from the reason it was planted.

The family of Frank Magnus planted the tree in his honor following his death in 2005.

Magnus was a World War II Army Veteran.

He returned to Harrison after the war where he worked as a dairy farmer until he and his wife Grace moved to Rhinelander in 2003.

During his time in Lincoln County, he served as the Harrison town clerk for nearly 50 years and was on the county board for nearly 20 years, including four years as county board chairman.

According to his obituary, “As an elected official, Frank was known for his honesty and integrity.”

The tree was just 6 feet tall when it was planted.

“The neighbors from around that time called it the Mr. Frank tree, just to remember who it was planted in honor of,” said Van Heuklon.

Katie Thoresen

In the last 18 years, the ‘Mr. Frank’ tree grew to be 32 feet tall.

While Van Heuklon knows people will be sad to see it go, she wanted to give the tree one final honor and thought it might make a good Christmas tree for a local community.

She put photos of it on Facebook, asking around if anyone knew of a place that would take it.

“She was tickled that it might be considered for a Capitol Christmas Tree,” said Henry Schienebeck with the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association. His wife saw a photo of the tree on Facebook.

“I came over and looked at it first to make sure it would fit my thought at least tree for the capital,” he said.

Schienebeck says it’s been a nearly two-year process to make it happen.

A local company had to come out last year and trim the sides.

At 16 feet wide, it’s pushing the limits of how big a Capitol Holiday Tree can be.

“They'll take a complete set of doors out and they build like a plywood funnel, and hook a rope on it. We get about 30 people on the rope and through the door it goes,” said Schienebeck. “They do have a winch for a backup in case they get stuck. I’ve hauled some big, wide trees down there before though. They always managed to get them in.”

They did manage to get it in and as of Thursday it was standing in the capitol rotunda.

Of course, before they could try to squeeze it in, the tree had to come down.

Ponsse secured a line attached to a crane to the center of the trunk.

Then Tom with the Forest Industry Safety Training Alliance took a chainsaw to the base.

Instead of falling to the ground, once the tree was cut through, it swung up and hung horizontally about 15 feet off the ground.

It was then slowly craned over to the roadway onto a waiting trailer.

The trailer’s use was donated by Matt Carothers of Superior Woodlands. He and his young son Jack helped measure the tree to make sure it would actually work as the Capitol Holiday Tree.

It needed to be under 35 feet.

“Destructive sampling is the only way to ever really know, like, cut it and get it on the ground. But for our tools, this one measured 32 feet. So should fit,” said Carothers.

He and his family were just a few of those gathered in Van Heuklon’s neighborhood to watch the tree come down.

Katie Thoresen

Many of them stuck around as the workers tied up the tree branches so it would fit on trailer.

Schienebeck says they were spending a bit more time on this one to get it ready for transport, but it will be worth it to see it in the Capitol.

“This is going to look so fantastic in the Capitol once it's decorated, and the grounds crew down there is fantastic to work with. They fix whatever they have to fix, and they plug whatever they have to plug in. We bring them extra limbs and things. You cannot hardly take a tree like this and have not a little bit of damage to it. But they fix it up and make it look fantastic,” said Schienebeck.

Van Heuklon can’t wait to see it in person in a couple of weeks.

“The fellas coming up from the grounds crew asked if I'd mind coming down to Madison, I said, ‘I would love to come down to Madison.’ I’m the Class of ‘75. I'm a Bucky Badger fan. I would love any excuse to be in Madison,” said Van Heuklon.

She also can’t wait for others coming through the capitol building to admire it and give the ‘Mr. Frank’ Tree the honor its namesake deserves.

“It's such an honor to see more people be able to enjoy it, admire it. Rather than it being cut up and made into mulch or something that would be a sad ending to it,” said Van Heuklon.

This year’s theme for the tree is “175 Years of Wisconsinites”.

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Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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