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As the 7 o'clock hour approached Monday night, a pretty good crowd that had gathered in front of the museum counted down in unison leading up to the annual lighting of the community's Christmas tree.

Joel Shonnard flipped a switch to light up the noble fir and those on hand applauded in appreciation. Held for the 12th straight year on the Benton County Historical Museum's lawn, the tree lighting represents an example of the small-town life that many folks in this proud Philomath community appreciate.

"It's just nice because it's a community event here for this small town and it gives us a chance to be a part of the community that we live in," said Katy McLeod, who has lived in Philomath for nine years and has been a regular at tree lightings with her husband and two children. "I think that's one of the things that draws us to a community like this having small kids. They kinda make it so we want to stay here, especially when they do stuff like this that's so much fun."

Although many people have attended the event multiple times, there are always a few that take it in for the first time.

"I'm local but I had just never made it out until this year," said Kevin Eveland, who has lived in Philomath for six years. "I was always working or something but I thought it would be good to be in the community and participate a little bit and bring out the family. This is what we were looking for in a small town."

Then there are those like Rylee Henderer, who has lifelong ties to her hometown of Philomath. It's extra special for her this year because she gets to participate as the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo queen, helping make sure Santa Claus always has a handful of candy canes to pass out to the children.

"All of the small-town things that I get to do here in Philomath are always my favorite because this is where I grew up," Henderer said. "I grew up coming to these things and seeing the Frolic queen and now it's me, and it's kinda crazy."

For the second straight year, Philomath Elementary's choir kicked off the evening with a selection of Christmas carols. With temperatures approaching the low 30s, many got in line for hot cocoa served up with cookies by the College United Methodist Church and Philomath Pastors Fellowship.

Mack the Knight and Lil' King arrived at around the same time to entertain the kids. After the schoolchildren finished up their performance, disc jockey Heath Honeycutt took over to play holiday selections.

This was the final time that Honeycutt would bring his Mid-Valley DJ Services to the tree lighting. A Philomath High graduate, he moved with his family to Dallas a couple of years ago but has been making the trip back for the event.

The usual lineup of businesses contributed to the evening's festivities, including Philomath Rental (lighting), Eats & Treats (gluten-free cookies) and Oregon State Credit Union (marketing and candy canes). Shonnard's Nursery and Pacific Power came together to decorate the tree with lights in advance of the big evening.

Santa Claus, who goes by his alias Rick Wells for 11 months of the year, arrived in Philomath Fire & Rescue's Old No. 1 with Fire Chief Tom Miller at the wheel. After climbing down from the antique fire engine, all of the youngsters crowded around the jolly elf for candy canes and photos.

Hosted by the Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce, the tree-lighting event went off without a hitch. The weather even cooperated and although it was a bit chilly, there was no rain.

"Tonight was super easy because we didn't have to set up any canopies or all the normal stuff that we have when it's sketchy weather," chamber director Shelley Niemann said.

One thing that was set up this year for the first time was a fence around the tree.

"Last year, there were some kids climbing up and we were a little worried with the cords and stuff and so this year we put a temporary horse-like fence around it to keep the kids out," Niemann said.

Kerry DeGuzman, chamber board president, was excited about the good turnout and expressed her appreciation to all of those who come together to bring the event to life. She said the chamber board brainstorms for ideas and there could be a few new fun activities in the future.

"I thought a truck light parade with all of the logging trucks in town would be really fun," DeGuzman said. "They do that down in southern Oregon."

Niemann said the suggestion was on the table but there was much to work out before it could happen.

"The thought didn't come quick enough to make it happen this year but we did talk about it," she said.

Whether or not a parade is ever part of the evening's activities, it probably won't matter much to many of those who turn out every year. The locals will love it no matter what holiday fun comes their way because it represents something very important — a cherished slice of the small-town family life.

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