Branching out

By Mary C. Cusack

Turner-Dodge House launches unique fundraiser featuring novelty Christmas tress

Some people consider the Esquire Club on Center Street to be the northern border of Lansing’s Old Town district. Others might call the Golden Harvest the line of demarcation. Michael Beebe hopes to change people’s perceptions so that when they think of the edge of Old Town, the Turner-Dodge House springs to mind.

The Greek Revival-style mansion is a few blocks off the path beaten by consumers of Old Town art, antiques and popcorn, and Beebe’s plan is to entice that foot traffic in with shiny things — hanging ornaments, to be precise. This month, the Turner-Dodge House is hosting a fundraising event called the Old Town Festival of Trees. Beebe, president of the Friends of Turner-Dodge House, and Jennifer McDaniels, Turner-Dodge House coordinator, are decking the halls on all three floors of the historical mansion with 25 Christmas trees created by Old Town businesses and Friends members.

“We’re kind of on the north end, and get left out of a lot of activities,” said Beebe, who proposed the idea shortly after taking over as president. “I thought, let’s do something fun for the holidays that creates a connection with Old Town.”

The goal of the event is twofold: to raise funds (collected as an admission charge) that will support projects that preserve and enhance the historical building, and raise awareness of Old Town’s semi-hidden gem. The group has already achieved the latter, forging new collaborations between the house and local businesses. After shopping the idea around, Beebe was pleased to get such a strong response. He even volunteered his personal work called “Birds of a Feather,” a Victorian-influenced tree flocked with bird ornaments, both vintage and new, with sumptuous peacock feathers throughout and crowning the tree.

While some businesses declined to participate because of the busy holiday season, others found it critical to building interest in Old Town. Rick Preuss, owner of Preuss Pets, said he couldn’t turn down the chance to participate, despite busy family schedules and the holiday shopping frenzy.

“If there’s something going on in Old Town, we want to be involved as much as humanly possible,” Preuss said. “It’s part of the energy of Old Town — you feel left out if you’re not a part of it.”

Preuss’ daughter Kirbay is the mastermind behind the Preuss tree, despite her busy schedule.

“My daughter has finals and two jobs, the last thing she really needs to be doing is volunteering to do this,” Preuss said, “but it’s part of what her (constitution) is. That’s one of her passions — Old Town.”

While Old Town solidarity is a significant reason to participate, Beebe added a bit of healthy competition. Three prizes for the best trees will be awarded by a celebrity jury, made up of WLNS anchors Jane Aldrich and Evan Pinsonnault and Wharton Center public relations manager Bob Hoffman.

Each tree will be a unique reflection of their creator. The Nature Conservancy tree includes handmade animal ornaments. Lamb’s Gate Antiques has incorporated a dress mannequin with antique spools and baubles. And the Preuss entry is rumored to feature live fish. Rick Preuss couldn’t confirm what elements Kirbay would incorporate, but is “quite faithful that she’ll do something out of the box.”

The Turner-Dodge House is the last remaining city-owned mansion in Michigan that isn´t a museum. It was built in 1858 by Lansing pioneer James Turner, who gave it to his daughter, Abby, and son-in-law, Frank Dodge. The building is available for tours throughout the week (except Mondays) and can be rented out for special occasions.

Old Town Festival of Trees
Turner-Dodge House
Dec. 11-23
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday
100 E. North St.
$5 per person/$10 per family
(517) 483-4220