Garden club begins annual Christmas wreath making

Esther Noe
Years ago the Hill City Evergreen Garden Club wanted to have a fundraiser. 
“They decided, ‘Oh we can make some wreaths.’ So they started in somebody’s garage and made them out of coat hangers,” said Merlene Broer, co-chair of today’s Christmas Wreath Fundraiser Project.
The members did this for many years until someone found frames to order. Since then the project has evolved and still continues to evolve today. 
For the project, the garden club members set up shop in the cabin outside the Hill City Center which used to be the Boy Scout Hall and home of the Hill City Lions Club. 
“We would not be able to do this without this building,” said Gail McKane, co-chair of the wreath project and president of the garden club. 
Inside the cabin is a myriad assembly lines with stations for building wreaths from scratch, tanks to soak the wreaths, space to decorate, an abundance of ribbon choices and other supplies as well as space for the completed wreaths. 
The Christmas Wreath Fundraiser Project is the garden club’s only major fundraiser of the year. All of the proceeds go to support the club, provide scholarships for Hill City High School Seniors and support community projects. 
“Everything this club does goes back to the community,” said McKane. 
At this point the club only does repeat orders, and McKane said it will end up making around 225 pieces this year. Each wreath is custom-made based on individual order forms. 
“There are no two alike ever,” said McKane. 
The garden club started training for this year’s project the last week of October. Broer did the wreath building training, and Hilde Manuel did the decorating training. 
To create the wreaths, fresh greens must be gathered from the Black Hills with permits and brought back to the cabin by the truckload. Clippers then prepare these to be made into wreaths. 
The builders then put a base of ponderosa pine into the frame before adding spruce, juniper and kinnikinnick. When each section of the frame is full, the prongs are clamped down to hold everything in place. 
“It works really neat,” said Judy Swift.
Each builder decides how they want to make the wreath, and everyone does it a little differently. Depending on the size, the average wreath can take one to two hours to build. 
“Merlene (Broer) is the major builder,” said McKane. “She does all the larges and extra larges and helps train everybody and does quality control.”
Once the wreaths are built, they are submerged in large water tanks with a little bleach for two days. The wreaths are then taken out, dried and sprayed with a light layer of acrylic. This, McKane said, is one of the reasons why the wreaths easily last until March. 
After the wreaths are dried and ready, the decorators take over. Depending on the size and order form, the decorators add large bows made by hand from different spools of wire-edge ribbon. 
“Actually one of our hardest things is choosing the ribbon,” said Manuel. “That’s where collaboration comes in.”
The garden club members bounce ideas off each other, give opinions or make suggestions as to what would look best. 
“It’s amazing how we all work so well together,” said McKane.
They also add natural, white-tipped, gold or silver pine cones and oregon grape. It can take an hour to decorate a wreath, and the decorators go through hot glue sticks by the case. 
At the end of the night, Broer enters what was made in an online database so the next volunteers know exactly what needs to be done. They work on the project every day of the week including the weekends. As a result, all the wreaths should be finished by Thanksgiving. 
Rita Chapman said, “This is my favorite time just because you get to know the garden club members better. We chit-chat and have lunches. It’s just a nice time to get to know each other.” 
Members who cannot help with the building bring the volunteers lunch once a week, and community coordinator Christy Derynck has opened up the Hill City Center for them to use for the meals. 
All in all, it takes an average of over 50 people to complete the Christmas Wreath Fundraiser Project.
“It couldn’t be done without the hard work of these members. It’s pretty incredible the dedication that it takes for this,” said McKane. 
The Hill City Evergreen Garden Club is always looking for new people to become members or help with the wreath project. You do not have to be a gardener to join either. 
“We’re just always open to new help,” said Broer. 
The club can always use donations of funds or ribbon as well. Ribbon must be wire-edged and one and a half or two and a half inches wide. 
To learn more about the garden club, wreath project or volunteering, contact McKane at

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