News: Tribute tree a deep-rooted show of support for military in Wisconsin
Story by Vaughn Larson
MAPLE BLUFF, Wis. — The Executive Residence was a cacophonous flurry of power tools, evergreens, garland and ornaments as volunteers set about decorating the mansion for public tours next month.
One of the first trees visitors will see is the Tribute to the Troops Tree, decorated by volunteers from the Wisconsin National Guard's Service Member Support Division (SMSD) and adorned with ornaments recognizing family members or friends deployed with the military, or honoring the memory of fallen service members.
Linda Hughes of Cambria, Wis., once again donated handmade ornaments with the names of fallen Wisconsin service members for the Tribute tree. Hughes was the first recipient of the Wisconsin Heroes award in January 2012 for her voluntary contributions.
"It was quite humbling to open up the boxes and seeing just how many how many ornaments there were honoring fallen service members," said Airman 1st Class Cedar Hamilton, who works full-time with the SMSD's Family Assistance Program and drills with the Madison, Wis.-based 115th Fighter Wing. "It's nice to be able to represent them, especially around Christmastime."
Shawna Wyman, the SMSD Child Youth Program coordinator, agreed with Hamilton.
"I think it's a great honor to be able to come down here," she said, "[especially] from a Family Program aspect. This is a great opportunity to have [service members] represented within the state, and it's a great opportunity the first lady and the governor have given us to represent them."
Gov. Scott Walker and first lady Tonette Walker invited the public to donate ornaments dedicated to their military friend or family member for the Tribute to the Troops Tree.
Diane Leffler, a Family Program assistant with SMSD, was the third volunteer to decorate the Tribute tree. She is a specialist in the Wisconsin Army National Guard who will leave the military at the completion of her contract.
"After working in the office for five years this is the first time I've gotten down here to do this," Leffler said. "It's been a really neat experience to come and see how they set things up here, and having an opportunity to decorate the tree at the Executive Residence."
According to Tiffany Black, Tonette Walker's chief of staff, the Tribute tree is the Walkers' favorite.
"All the trees here are beautiful — all the florists do a great job," Black said. "This is truly their favorite tree and their favorite room every single year. The governor will do interviews in front of this tree."
Black helped decorate the Tribute tree three years ago when she worked in the Service Member Support Division. Last year she was an intern with the Executive Residence. Also a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, she spent two consecutive years on deployment, and plans to leave the military at the end of her current term of service.
"Being a service member myself, it means a lot that the governor and the first lady support our service to the state and to the country," Black said. "It's nice that they give this opportunity every year for a tree dedicated to veterans and to those currently serving."
The volunteer organization Camo Quilt Project will also have items on hand as part of the Tribute tree display. Project founder Linda Wieck first made the quilts for her son-in-law, a deployed member of a Wisconsin Army National Guard unit, in 2006 and the popularity of the quilts soon led to a volunteer effort that has since produced more than 21,000 quilts for deployed service members.
The Tribute to the Troops Tree can be seen during public tours of the Executive Residence, set for Dec. 4, 5, 11 and 12 from noon-2 p.m., and on Dec. 7 and 14 from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.