Elizabeth Avenue Christmas tree comes full circle

Tree 14ELIZABETH — The Elizabeth Avenue Partnership recently celebrated its annual Tree-Lighting Ceremony by lighting a 40-foot Spruce tree in the heart of the district known as Union Square Plaza on Elizabeth Avenue before a large community gathering composed of business owners, elected officials, municipal and county employees and children. Lots of children!

The event came with all the trimmings; a visit from Santa Claus, holiday music, horse and buggy rides, Christmas carolers, hot chocolate, cookies and a plaza full of happy children.

But what nobody knew was that the tree they were lighting had a story – a history – and that it was returning to its original birthplace. Every tree has a story. Not many of them are told.

Here is this tree’s story: More than 30 years ago a local Elizabeth family planted a tree on First Avenue just one block off Elizabeth Avenue — later called Union Square.

Before the tree grew into a healthy young sapling it was replanted at the country home of a local Elizabeth businessman named Jimmy Vlahoianis — “Jimmy the Greek” — and his wife Tina, who owned a coffee shop on First Avenue; just across from where the tree originated from.

Around that same time, another business owner, Oneida and Jeronimo Duran from Duran Agency, 835 Elizabeth Ave. were invited to visit the Vlahoianis’ house in upstate New York for the weekend.

While walking on the property, Jeronimo noticed a couple of small trees about 1 1/2 feet tall and inquired about taking one back home to Elizabeth to replant in his backyard. Of course, Jimmy generously agreed.

As the years went by, the tree, which they fondly named, “Jimmy” grew to more than 40 feet while the Duran children spent many a day of their childhood playing around it.

“We had a lot of fond memories with “Jimmy,” said Oneida Duran, who has been operating the Duran Agency on Elizabeth Avenue for more than 45 years.

But, with anything, all good things must come to an end and the tree had to be taken down from the Duran’s Elmora Hills backyard for precautionary reasons. This summer, they inquired to Elizabeth about donating the tree for the EAP’s annual tree-lighting ceremony, at the original site of its birthplace – Union Square Plaza. The request was granted and the tree would be coming home.

“That was a special day as the Mayor joined the community to light the tree in front of a large gathering at Union Square, the site of where it was originally planted some thirty some years later,” said Duran. “To see it standing there, all lit up so beautifully really brought tears to my eyes,” she said. “It has come full circle, it has come home.”

“Now I think it would be nice if our grandchildren Jeremy and Jacob would plant another descendant in their backyard from the seeds of this tree to let the story live on,” said Duran, who plans to make sure that happens.

“In 30 years, my grandchildren will be telling their children the story of a tree named “Jimmy,” said a smiling Duran. “That would be nice, really nice.”

For more information about the Elizabeth Avenue Partnership you can find it at www.elizabethavenue.org.