by Jonathan Weaver
Amid a brisk wind and freezing rain, hundreds of Freeport Borough and South Buffalo Township residents stood outside Laube Hall in Freeport Community Park last weekend to witness the first lights of the holiday season.
And the first Christmas tree lit in the park this century.
Under the direction of a new board of directors in the Freeport Community Park Corporation, the 45-foot-tall green Christmas tree shined for approximately 300 children and families December 2 – a day before Freeport Borough’s annual parade.
Board President Dave Montgomery praised Freeport Developer Ron Mailki – of Malki Mechanical – for bringing back the lights.
“(Ron and brother Eric, lead custodian at Freeport Area School District) spent long hours – longer than people will ever know,” Dave said. “They’ve been incredible – a huge help.”
Ron confirmed it was indeed weeks that he and his crew worked and “rebuilt everything.”
“Countless hours,” Ron said. “A lot of my guys donated their time. Everything was antiquated and worn out, obsolete.”
After the Christmas tree is taken down January 7 – during the celebration of the Greek orthodox Christmas -, Mailki will prepare to raise the cross again Ash Wednesday.
Ron said the cross of white lights during Easter used to cost about $1,800, but will only cost board members about $400 in 2017.
“With the upside to LED lights, pay back is one season for the lamps,” Ron said. “It’s more cost-effective.”
Dave said a new five-person board of directors took over park operations in April following retirement by Francis “Dutch” Laube, III, and the rest of board directors. He was first approached about the possibility in Spring 2015 after being a board member since 2008.
“He asked me to take over and find a board. The smartest thing I did was find four guys smarter than me (brother Dennis, John Bird, Chris Lentz and Patrick Huth),” Dave said. “I found some very intelligent guys. The last thing I wanted was to hire ‘yes’ men.
“I don’t think it’s ever going to be like it was – we don’t have the resources like they did in the 70’s – but we have an opportunity to bring back a lot. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Board Vice-President Dennis – Dave’s identical twin brother and a fellow Freeport graduate of 1981 – said he appreciates that Francis “Dutch” Laube III trusted him and his brother to “continue the tradition they started many years ago.”
“Dutch,” III’s daughter, Kim, who now lives in Wexford, called it “thrilling” to be back and see the lights lit for the holiday season.
“To come here tonight and see all the people, it’s amazing. I didn’t know what to expect – to see the community come together for the lighting of the tree (was) spectacular,” Kim said.
Kim graduated at Laube Hall, had her graduation party at Laube Hall and attended monthly Rainbow Girls meetings at the facility.
“It’s always going to be a special place,” Kim said.
With the first board of directors in 1961 under the direction of brothers Richard “Dick” Laube and Francis “Dutch” Laube. Jr., Laube Hall – which just received a new roof from the new board of directors – has become the spot for large banquets, weddings and graduation parties of up to 100 people
Dave called Ron “a genius” for his work on the roof as well.
“We rely on Ron Mailki incredibly. He’s a great guy,” Dave said. “As five computer geeks, we couldn’t put a roof on a dog house.”
Board Director Huth brought his wife and four children – seven-year-old Mary, two-year-old Patrick, four-year-old Claire and 11-year-old Katie – to attend the tree lighting and to see Santa Claus.
“The board of directors was really amazed at the number of people that showed up,” Huth said. “It was a nice community event.
“It took a lot of work to get the tree lit again,” Huth said. “We’re so glad it’s up”
Last weekend’s dedication and tree lighting also included the music of local singer Jamie Phillips.
For those that were unable to attend the tree lighting ceremony, or for those that want to remember it always, limited copies of the dedication are available on DVD for a $30 tax-free donation to the Freeport Park Community Corporation.
To inquire, contact Bird at firstname.lastname@example.org