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December 6, 2013

A 67-year-old caroling tradition

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

"Kenwood has a very close-knit community," said Mary Eileen Morrissey, who has helped organize its children's breakfast with Santa, for 10 years. Ruthanna has played piano and introduced Santa at those breakfasts and has been instrumental in bringing Kenwood together in other ways, including holding monthly dinners, starting the neighborhood Garden Club and serving as president of the Kenwood Citizens Association.

"The community and traditions that Kenwood has stems from the people like Ruthanna, who have been here a long time and have educated the new people to ensure that these traditions are passed down," Morrissey said.

Until Christmas Eve 2012, as far as anyone could remember, the caroling tradition at least had always continued.

In 1945, on her second Christmas Eve in her new neighborhood, Ruthanna got into the back of a pickup truck with a few friends, a piano and some songbooks. They drove the winding Kenwood streets — some of which were still dirt roads — stopping periodically to regale their neighbors with carols. At the time, there were 80 houses, about 200 fewer than stand today. People were surprised and delighted and would come out and join them, bringing hot cider to warm the plucky singers.

The next year, when the piano fell out of the back of the truck — most likely the result of too much eggnog — everyone agreed they needed to find a safer, stationary location for caroling. Ruthanna instantly visualized what they needed: a giant Christmas tree to gather around.

Ruthanna approached one of the two founders of Kenwood, Donal Chamberlin, and told him the neighborhood needed to plant not a cherry tree but a Christmas tree in the landmark circle. Ruthanna eventually persuaded him, leading to its unofficial designation as "Christmas Tree Circle."

Ruthanna assumed the tree would outlive her, but it fell victim to a vicious storm in 1989, having lasted a mere 42 years. Its replacement succumbed 13 years later to construction work in 2002. Now Ruthanna is on her third tree, a 50-foot-high Colorado blue spruce. Every year, a few weeks before Christmas, the tree is strung with colored lights to welcome the holiday season. Back in the days of the first tree, it took many years for the neighbors to persuade Rosemary Plumb that she didn't need to climb the tree limbs to hang the lights — it was okay to use ladders.

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