ST. GEORGE — Live music, delectable treats, an enchanting horse-drawn carriage ride — Utah Tech went all out for its sixth annual Trailblazer Nation Tree Lighting Celebration on campus Wednesday.

Holland Centennial Plaza was transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with Mr. and Mrs. Claus sitting at the far end of the plaza overlooking the festivities. With gingerbread decorating, ornament making and photo booths, there was something for everyone to enjoy throughout the evening.

Nearly 20 vendors ran booths along the path leading up to the main stage where performers sang Christmas classics for the crowd. In years past, the event wasn’t open to anyone outside the university. For the last few years, that has changed and seemingly made all the difference for community outreach.

Megan Church, director of university events, shared her enthusiasm for the night’s transition to a community event.

“Every year it is bigger. It has been great opening it up to the community,” she said. “This used to be an internal event for Utah Tech, but we’ve since expanded to add many different groups.”

Megan Church holds up this year’s Utah Tech University ornament for the annual holiday tree lighting, St. George, Utah, Nov. 29, 2023 | Photo by Bridger Palmer, St. George News

The 40-foot Christmas tree itself was the main attraction for attendees. Once the crowd had enjoyed their carriage rides and serenades from performers, the faculty countdown to light the tree began, culminating with applause and chatter as the Trailblazer tree was illuminated.

Throughout the day on campus, a group of faculty and students worked together to embody the holiday season’s principles of gratitude and generosity.

One of the more notable booths at Wednesday’s event included a canned food drive put on by the Utah Tech University Student Association and Findlay Hyundai on the northeast corner of the Holland Centennial Plaza parking lot. The food drive aimed to support the on-campus Blazer Pantry, which has collected 11,227 pounds of food, valued at over $39,900, in the past six months alone.

As donations were delivered to the booth, a collective roar of applause was given from the energetic crowd of young student-athletes working the drive. Among them was Hank Dodson, a senior baseball player and member of the student advisory committee. He expressed his appreciation for the outpouring of support.

Attendees gather for the annual holiday tree lighting at Utah Tech University, St. George, Utah, Nov. 29, 2023 | Photo by Bridger Palmer, St. George News

“Always nice to see people willing to donate and help the needy,” Dodson said as his baseball teammate and fellow advisory committee members nodded in agreement.

The students were led by Mike Olsen, associate athletic director for Academics and Student-Athlete Welfare, who said he was impressed with the turnout.

“We’ve collected $3,500 worth of food donations that will go toward the pantry,” he said.

Collecting food items was the main goal of the drive, but Olsen emphasized it was also a demonstration of unity among Utah Tech’s student-athletes.

“It’s the students’ way to thank the community and to give back to their peers,” Olsen said. “We know there’s an income disparity, and so we wanted to do our part to help out the campus and the students who are less fortunate.”

Olsen said he was pleased with the success of the event and hopes to build upon this year’s success in the future.

“It’ll get bigger and better,” Olsen said.

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