PITTSBURG — A decades-old Christmas tradition will come to an end this year.
Over the years, many families have visited the Bowen’s Christmas Tree Farm to pick out the perfect Christmas tree.
This December will be bittersweet, the ending of the Bowens’ 35-year journey selling Christmas Trees.
“We’re going to miss it,” Karen Bowen said. “It’s bittersweet and in some respects it’s been very sad and we’ve seen a few tears come.”
It all began in 1984 when Jim and Karen Bowen planted their first tree.
Their children were raised and they had 15 acres of land, where horses had previously grazed — both of which freed up time and space for something new.
“I talked to a friend of my parents who had a Christmas tree farm in Compton, Kansas,” Karen said. “As we talked about it over lunch, we came home and started mowing the next day,” Karen said.
Running a Christmas Tree farm wasn’t “easy as pie” however, there was a lot to learn over the years.. In the beginning they found out a little too late that the trees should be planted in the spring, rather than the fall.
“About in the middle of January I went out in the cold, cold day and here are these little seedlings laying down flat,” Karen said.
The following years they had more and more trees — thousands more, Scotch, Austrian and White Pines, Fraser, Balsam, Douglas Firs. Some of the trees were pre-cut and brought in from other areas because they thrived better in higher altitudes, Jim said, bringing a little piece of Michigan into families’ homes.
 “One time we had 6,000 trees growing,” Jim said.
The Fraser Fir, was one of the most popular, the couple said.
Handmade wreaths and other decorations were made and sold in their shop, where people also stopped to eat cookies and drink cocoa while warming up.
What people may not know, the Bowens said, is that Christmas Trees are crops which need care all year round. The trees are pruned and weeded. Trees that need a little help are set up with a stake.
“There’s a lot to it,” Karen said.
After the first three years, the trees grow approximately a foot a year which had the potential to grow to towering heights up to 12 to 13 feet.
“You can’t see your mistakes for about seven years,” Karen said.
It takes patience and optimism, Karen said.
At the Bowens’ Christmas Tree Farm, all customers have to do is stop by the farm, grab a rolling Christmas Tree dolly, a measuring pole and a hand saw — the hardest part is picking the perfect tree.
“Then we’ll shake them to get the needles and bird’s nests out,” Jim said.
The couple reminisced about the time a little girl was sad because they were cutting down a tree, and about a little boy dressed in overalls with his own toy chainsaw ready to cut his own tree down.
When families had multiple children, the Bowens would watch the children take turns cutting down their own tree.
“It’s a fun tradition where the kids can go run wild,” Karen said.
Karen was an elementary school teacher at George Nettels and many of her students visited the tree farm.
“And now they are bringing their children,” Karen said.
Jim worked as an insurance agent at Farmers Insurance for 28 years.
The business was also featured in the news many times. In one article, a family found a “monster sized tree,” at the Bowen’s farm which couldn’t even fit in the baler — the equipment which bundles the tree in netting so families can take it home.
The Bowens, as members of the Kansas Christmas Tree Growing Association, also had the honor of supplying a Christmas Tree to former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius at the governor’s residence at Cedar Crest in Topeka.
They also donated many of their trees.
Helping them make these Christmas traditions possible were their employees, many of whom were Pittsburg State University students.
“We just had so much fun with these kids,” Karen said.
Working at the tree farm had its perks, lunch was on the Bowens — and was served from their own home during shift changes.
“We fed them every Saturday, some even said, ‘gosh they don’t have to pay me, I’d just come here to eat,’” Karen said laughing.
The Bowens’ children and grandchildren also returned home during the holiday season to help, creating long-lasting memories — a tradition of their own.
“It’s kind of bittersweet, our community has been a big part of the community and it’s a tradition for everybody,” grandson Michael Bowen said of the closing.
One of the Bowens’ granddaughters, Katherine Bowen, of Florida, agreed with Michael and said, “They’ve kept us busy,” she said. “I like seeing all of the families come and go.
“It’s like a Hallmark movie.”
The Bowens said they are looking forward to next Thanksgiving and Christmas. Through all these years, the Bowens have dedicated their time to their business making it difficult to visit with family outside of Kansas. Their daughter, Gretchen Lavender, said she also looks forward to her parents visiting in Atlanta.
“Now we can go to the south where it’s nice and warm,” Karen said.
Bowen’s Christmas Tree Farm closes on Dec. 22.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. To nominate someone for Patrick's People send an email to patrickspeople@morningsun.net