Members of the Hillsboro High School Student Council were on hand Saturday to witness the placing of a Christmas tree on the Highland County Courthouse lawn which they purchased and hope to use as part of an effort to help provide money for needy families.
Meanwhile, a longstanding Nativity scene that has appeared each year at the courthouse was moved, but then was returned to the courthouse lawn on Sunday.
In regard to the tree, Hillsboro student advisor Melanie Pitzer said the students discussed different ways to make a difference during the Christmas season, and students settled on the idea of the tree, which will be lighted during a ceremony prior to the Christmas parade on Saturday, Dec. 10. Students will sell hot chocolate that day to raise money for their “adopt a family” cause.
Students Mallory Overberg, Emily King, Ellie Elmore, Brian Shanahan, Sydney Bobbitt and Luke Gallimore were present Saturday as members of the Paint Creek fire department, along with other volunteers, helped put the 20-foot-plus tree into place. Organizers thanked local businesses that donated equipment or supplies.
Highland County Commissioner Tom Horst was also present, as was Gordon L. Yuellig, whose late father, Gordon W. Yuellig, started a tradition several years ago of placing a Nativity scene at the edge of the courthouse lawn.
As usual after Thanksgiving, Yuellig had erected the manger scene shortly after Thanksgiving, but when he became aware that it had been placed too close to where the tree was going up, he relocated it to the grounds of Bridgewood Childcare Center, about a mile north of Hillsboro off SR 73.
But on Saturday afternoon, some people were encouraging Yuellig to return the display to the courthouse, and he said he would discuss the matter with family members. On Sunday afternoon, the manger scene was back at the courthouse.
Yuellig provided The Times-Gazette with a document explaining the origin of his family becoming involved with the Nativity scene, and also addressing concerns he said he heard in recent days about the removal of the manger scene from the courthouse lawn.
“Let me say first that we were not asked to remove the display, but only to move it to another location (on the grounds) because the commissioners had promised the use of the space where we had set it up to another group for another display,” he wrote.
Yuellig said that the display was originally built by his father about 10 years ago because “he was a Christian to whom a great faith had been given and a loyal Republican as well. He believed that the stipulations of the First Amendment should protect and defend his right to exercise and speak of his faith in a public forum.”
Yuellig wrote, “He and I had many friendly discussions about this and I must admit that even though I did not fully share either his beliefs or his politics, I did admire his courage.”
Yuellig said that when his father approached commissioners about the Nativity scene, commissioners “have always taken the position that while they cannot officially give their approval, they would not block a private citizen’s actions unless and until there was serious public opposition. In addition, County Commissioner Tom Horst privately expressed (his) desire to see the display on the lawn.”
Other family members began to help with the display as the elder Yuellig’s health deteriorated, his son wrote, and “it had become more an act of family love than anything else.”
Since his father’s passing, erecting the manger scene “was a kind of memorial to the man,” he wrote.
Yuellig concluded with some thoughts about the placement of the manger scene, writing, “In this town, we live in a Christian culture whether we are believers or not. The icons of this season are both religious and secular and most of us embrace them all. The Christmas tree likely comes to us from Druid or Northern European non-Christians. Santa Claus, in his many versions, shares origins with many cultures and all prehistoric peoples celebrated the winter solstice.
“Christmas celebrations had at one time been banned by the church and the Pilgrims didn’t celebrate it for at least fifty years after their arrival. Now, for us, Christmas is a time for goodwill toward everyone, regardless of their beliefs. The image of the manger scene can be as religious or non-religious as we choose. After all, how can the birth of a child be anything but good.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.