Christmas Tree Jubilee benefits, commemorates special-needs students

Wednesday , November 22, 2017 - 5:15 AM

JANAE FRANCIS/Standard-Examiner

This elf is one of many decorations on trees donated to the Christmas Tree Jubilee, which is open to the public Nov. 22 and 24 at the Eccles Conference Center.

JANAE FRANCIS, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — A white Christmas tree with green, blue and “Toy Story” highlights and toys honors a legacy of service that sprang from the life of a special-needs graduate of Roy High School.

The tree, dedicated to Jared Hill, 24, who passed away Feb. 19, 2014, is just one of more than 100 Christmas trees volunteers were busily dropping off and decorating on the first floor of the Eccles Conference Center Monday.

Decorated trees and dozens of wreaths are all part of the Weber School District’s Christmas Tree Jubilee, open to the public from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday at the Eccles Conference Center, 2415 Washington Blvd. in Ogden.

Funds from tree and wreath sales at the event will help students, especially those with special needs, in the Weber School District.

“People are more important than money,” said Jared Hill’s father, David Hill.

Visiting the tree honoring his son is bittersweet for his family, David Hill said. However, seeing future improvements for special-needs students made possible by funds raised through the tree will give them joy, he added.  

• RELATED Jared Lawrence Hill

Jared Hill was affected by Fragile X Syndrome, which led to a number of complications, including autism

His family said he loved “Toy Story” and played with characters from the movie, even in his early 20s.

“I think Jared would have been thrilled with the tree,” David Hill said.

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Jared’s mother, Janice Hill, is a 20-year volunteer with Christmas Tree Jubilee and now plays a central roll in orchestrating it.

“I do this because the money benefits kids in my classroom,” Janice Hill said. 

A teacher of special-needs students at Green Acres Elementary School in Ogden, Janice Hill has a passion for serving those with disabilities, which led to her family being chosen to adopt Jared Hill when he was 10.

At the time, she had been working as Jared’s teacher for about four years.

Janice Hill said that Jared’s grandmother, who was raising him, told her during a parent-teacher conference that his needs were becoming too much. The grandmother feared he would outlive her.

“She wanted him to have a family,” Janice Hill said.

The teacher said she immediately voiced her desire to adopt another child. Her only son, Christopher Hill, was 10 months older than Jared.

Janice Hill said Jared brought her family much happiness over the years. “He was mostly always happy,” she said. “He loved to be around people.”

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“He loved playing with people’s hair,” she said. “He called (the hair) ‘friskies.’”

When he wasn’t asking people for permission to touch their heads, Jared Hill enjoyed being outside and was fascinated by equipment such as lawn mowers and weed whackers, Janice Hill said.

Jared Hill is one of many people commemorated with a tree at this year’s jubilee.

Another tree that features bike tires, gears, handlebars and stars made out of bike chain was decorated and donated in honor of Dakota "Doc" Keith Butler, a 2017 Fremont High graduate who died in June after an industrial accident.

• RELATED: Dakota "Doc" Keith Butler

“I’m not here for a long time. I’m here for a good time,” is a framed quote featured on the blue and black tree. Butler’s mother, Michelle Butler, said it was one of her son’s favorites.

“Life is an adventure. Enjoy the ride,” is another saying on the tree.

Michelle Butler said her son loved anything with wheels and lived his life to the fullest.

• RELATED: Family, friends mourn the loss of ‘fearless’ Farr West teen Doc Butler

Besides individuals, more than 100 nonprofit agencies provided trees or wreaths for the event, said Chris Zimmerman, executive director of the Weber School Foundation.

Among them is a tree provided by the Weber Human Services Foundation that features a Santa Claus doll looking over a “naughty and nice” list.

“Weber Human Services Foundation has participated in the Christmas Tree Jubilee for many years,” Foundation Director Summer Williams said. “The Jubilee is an amazing fundraiser and the foundation is thrilled to participate in an event where children in our local community are the recipients of the money being raised.”

Others who helped in decorating and providing trees said their efforts provided meaning to the Christmas season.

“We have girls who have special needs also,” said Susan Mecham of North Ogden, who was decorating Jared Hill’s tree Monday. “We started helping with the jubilee 20 years ago. It sort of sets the season for us.”

Mecham’s daughters, 24 and 19, each received devices from the Weber School Foundation to assist in communicating and overcoming their hearing impairments, Mecham said. 

“It’s a great cause,” Mecham said of the event. “It’s a fun way to start your holiday season.”

For more information on the jubilee, contact Emily Oyler at emoyler@wsd.net or visit wsdjubilee.com.

You can reach reporter JaNae Francis at jfrancis@standard.net or 801-625-4228. Follow her on Twitter at @JaNaeFrancisSE or like her on Facebook at facebook.com/SEJaNaeFrancis.