Life, Interrupted: The Santa Claus of Newburgh, Maine

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Why you should care

Because growing Christmas trees could get you into the Oval Office.

Turning into the rocky driveway off Trundy Road in the rural town of Newburgh, Maine, and seeing Jim and Norma Corliss’ house, you might be surprised to also see a lush, green backdrop of some of Maine’s proudest Christmas trees. A weathered wooden sign announces that you’re at the Piper Mountain Christmas Trees farm, a property settled in 1800 by the Bickford family and run as a dairy farm for five generations, right up until the early 20th century.

Jim and Norma, married for 63 years, live just a feet from the trees. After selling their first Christmas tree in 1978, they became the proud owners and founders of the farm, where they work year-round, taking care of all 185 acres of Christmas trees. “I think that any time after you retire from your primary career, it’s very important … to be able to stay busy,” says Jim about starting a Christmas tree business with his wife a little late in life.

The Corlisses had no idea where selling Christmas trees would take them. In 1989, Jim was asked to represent Maine on the board of the National Christmas Tree Association. The first thing he did was create a committee that encouraged the nationwide recycling of Christmas trees.

Shortly after, Jim was elected to the executive committee. Within three years, Jim was elected its president. “So far, I’m actually the only New England grower who’s ever been president,” he says. Every year, the association has a summer convention, and growers from around the country compete to win first prize. The winner of the competition takes an 18.5-foot tree to the White House, and presents it to the first lady. The association’s president goes as well, to represent the other members.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Jim tells OZY. “We had our picture taken with President and Mrs. George W. Bush in the White House, right in front of the Oval Office.”

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