Holidays merge at tree farm

Published 9:52 pm Thursday, November 3, 2011

New at Butler Tree Farm Nov. 25 will be Santa’s House with a sleigh pulled by sassafras reindeer Sam Butler carved.

Colors are changing in Volinia Township, not only on the foliage tunnel to Butler Tree Farm, but on the ground, from pumpkin patch orange to Christmas red at the new Santa’s house with sleigh throne and carved sassafras reindeer with movable heads.
Though remote Crane Street northeast of Dowagiac can be plenty creepy with a boneyard on one side and a snowmobile graveyard on the other at neighboring Stauffer’s parts salvage yard, plucky pumpkin pursuers who persevere past oaks with bedsheet ghosts fluttering from them will be rewarded with a memorable family outing in Sam and Brenda’s theme park, where school groups enjoy field trips weekdays at the former cattle ranch.
A comparison to Cassopolis Kitty Litter tycoon Ed Lowe bringing Jones back elicits an unexpected response.
“I worked for Ed for 17 years,” Brenda said. “I managed the cattery and traveled with him when he did commercials, positioning cats. (Sam’s visionary) mind reminds me so much of Ed.”
Sam used to make a lot of furniture, mushrooms and three kinds of deer — buck, doe and one with its head down, grazing.
“We want to offer something special and memorable you can’t get anywhere else,” Brenda said, “so children growing up remember going to ‘this wonderful place somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Michigan’ on a family outing where they go do something together like in the innocent day we long to go back to without malls or high-tech.

Making connections
“We love doing trees, but if trees were all we were about, we wouldn’t be doing this. It’s bonding time. Giggling, smiling faces, running and squealing mean memories connected with this addition” serving children of their original customers.
“Chicago people (70 percent own area lake property) talk about coming through this tunnel of trees in the woods and all of a sudden it opens up and there’s like a city all lit up and decorated,” Sam said.
“Everybody drives a couple of hours to get here, so families spend three to four hours. I never dreamt and still can’t grasp that thousands would pass through here in five short weeks.”
One noticeable trend is that pumpkin picking provides a fair-weather opportunity to reserve a tree rather than tromping around in deep snow later.
Four weekends of hay wagon rides through the pumpkin patch finished fall Oct. 23.
Photos of pumpkin-plucking outings have overflowed the walls and creep across the ceiling like vines. Visitors can sip cider or hot chocolate and admire hand-made hats around a Round Oak stove and an old copper washer made in Syracuse, N.Y.; its agitator looks like street lights.
Next to them is a 1934 stove Frank and Beulah Roth of Elkhart, Ind., bought for $7. Their son, Charles, is Brenda’s uncle.
“We have a lot of Illinois people,” Brenda, the Volinia Township clerk, said Wednesday.
“Granger, South Bend, St. Joseph, Stevensville, Kalamazoo, all over” who find them through their Web site.
“(The gift shop) was all orange and fall colors. We don’t do ghosts, goblins and creepy, scary Halloween things. We’re born-again Christians. We just focus on autumn, harvest, Indian corn, gourds, pumpkins and old-fashioned outdoor family days, which the families who come to us really appreciate.”
Established in 1998 as a retirement pursuit when Sam left the railroad, Butler Tree Farm opened to the public in 2000 and has grown to include campground cabins, a petting zoo, bake shop, crafts and eight varieties of Christmas trees,
In another venture, Butler’s second son and his wife, Sam and Kelly, are opening Butler Trading Post in Constantine, next to Dollar General, on the Friday after Thanksgiving.