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Peace Tree symbolizes peace and tranquility
by Nancy Grindle Correspondent · December 7th, 2017

Even though major changes happen in our lives, the important traditions endure. One such tradition we've come to anticipate is the Marion Peace Tree, residing in City Square Park and adorned in bright lights during each holiday season.

We have Julie Speral to thank for the origins of this Community Peace Tree. It had been a rough time, economically and with the occurrence of the first Gulf War, when the idea came to her in the early 1990s.

Julie had lived in Marion since she was five years old. She remembered downtown holiday seasons that reached back to her childhood. She wanted something happy that would touch others as those occasions had touched her.

Rather than sit back and let the idea die, Julie began to spread the peace tree idea to her friends and neighbors, and then wider out into the community.

Official records show that on March 19, 1992, Julie gave a report to the City Council on "the Winter Holiday Lights of Peace Tree fund." Speral indicated the funds raised are to plant a tree in the park and provide for the lights and upkeep of the tree."

The record continued: "Mayor Klopfenstein has received permission from the Park Board to plant the tree. Speral indicated that she hopes to raise $2,000 to keep in a perpetual fund. She has raised $1,718 so far. The Park Board will select the tree."

In the City Council minutes from April 2, 1992, there is this item: "Speral stated that the tree purchased from the Winter Holiday Lights of Peace Tree fund would be planted tomorrow. The tree is a 7-foot blue spruce."

The original tree came from Hoffman Tree Farm. It cost $300. The power line was more expensive, $800, but there was enough money left to set aside a portion to care for the tree.

Julie raised a total of $2,100, enough for a beautiful blue spruce and also for the power cord to reach it in the park.

Julie and then-Mayor Vic Klopfenstein planted the first Peace Tree on April 3, 1992. When the holiday season came along, Hy-Vee donated lights for it. During Year 2, Julie and Vic served hot chocolate and cider. Finally, by the third year, 1993, Christmas in the Park became an official event.

More than a decade later, Julie told Cary J. Hahn the story of her original idea. He wrote about it for the Marion Times: "Wouldn't it be nice to have something up in the park, some celebration where we could all get together?"

And by the time Hahn's story appeared in the newspaper - Monday, December 4, 2008 -- a lot had happened in the community and with the tree. It was only a number of weeks after the horrible flood of 2008, and many had been affected in some way by that flood.

The tree had grown huge. Julie described it with these words, "It towers above the park and even has its own line item in the city budget." She called once more for donations because a new and better power line was needed, as well as new lights.

But Speral's underlying feelings were still the same. She told Hahn, "We need a more peaceful world for kids to grow up in. We need peace in our hearts, for friends, family and neighbors."

She referred to the horrible flood, saying, "Like now in Cedar Rapids, after the flood. We need peace and tranquility. It's that simple. Sometimes people try to make it hard, and it doesn't need to be that way."

Those of us who gathered in City Square Park last week may have noticed a much smaller tree than years past. According to Marion Parks and Recreation Director Mike Carolan, a new tree was planted this past spring as the original tree had outgrown the space.

The new tree is a Concolor Fir and will grow approximately 40 feet tall and 15 to 25 feet wide. If the tree remains healthy, it will reach an estimated 40 or more years of life.

Although it's currently a much smaller tree, we all shared a moment of awe and togetherness, as Julie had wished for, when Mayor AbouAssaly spoke and signaled the lighting of the Peace Tree yet again.

"Wouldn't it be nice to have something up in the park, some celebration where we could all get together?"

"We need peace in our hearts, for friends, family and neighbors. We need peace and tranquility. It's that simple."

Thank you, Julie.
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