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UTSI Lights Giant Christmas Tree

The lobby was filled and an orange-suited “UT Santa” lent an ear to numerous children as lights for a 20-foot-tall tree were turned on for The University of Tennessee Space Institute’s “first official Christmas tree lighting” at twilight Nov. 29.

Faculty, staff, students and members of the UTSI Support Council watched as Donald C. Daniel and Troy Martin pressed the button creating a glittering wonderland.

“This special event was made possible thanks to a generous donation to UTSI from American City Bank where Martin is president,” said Daniel, UT associate vice president and chief operating officer of the Institute.

“Barbara Birdsong, who chaired the project, had tremendous help from numerous members of our staff in assembling the mammoth tree and decorating it. We are grateful to Martin and American City Bank, and we look forward to using this magnificent tree in future celebrations, too.”

Daniel’s wife Donna, his mother, Jimmie Daniel from Atlanta, and Elwanda Vibbert of Tullahoma were among special guests. Members of Franklin County Girl Scout Troops 581 and 227 also participated.

Birdsong said more than 10,000 small lights and close to 500 other decorations dressed the tree.

“So many helped,” she said, “and the children had so much fun putting ornaments on the tree and having their pictures made with the UT Santa. Some of our students said this was one of the Institute’s best special events ever. As the lights came on, I thought how the lighting of this tree is symbolic of Daniel’s lighting the way for a brighter and prosperous future for UTSI – a new beginning.” She noted that the tree will remain lighted throughout this Christmas season and can be seen from the circle in front of the lobby.

The old gent with the white flowing beard and orange suit – one of Santa’s many helpers – is known around Molino in Lincoln County as Morris Mills. When he’s not helping Rudolph’s boss, he spends a lot of time at Copperweld where he’s worked for more than three decades.