QUINCY, Mich. (AP) - Just before sunset on a recent Tuesday, 16-year-old Luke Loveberry bundled and carried a Christmas tree into the back of a stranger’s pickup truck.
His 18-year-old sister, Addie Loveberry was working behind the register, answering phone calls inside the small log-cabin gift shop that her grandfather, Jon Loveberry, built for his family business, Loveberry’s Tree Farm in Quincy.
“I don’t know anything else during Christmas time except for the Christmas tree farm,” Addie told the Battle Creek Enquirer. “I was like 10 when I started doing odd jobs around here. Roasted chestnuts for a while, then I moved on to serving hot chocolate and restocking things. Last year, I started working in the cabin where it’s warm.”
Jon Loveberry died on April 9 following his third bout with cancer. He was 81. It’s the farm’s first Christmas season without him.
“I don’t know how many times I look up and expect him to walk through that door or come around the corner and I expect him to be sitting in that chair by the fire,” said Lisha Loveberry, Luke and Addie’s aunt, sitting on a couch near the fireplace inside the cabin. “He always wore a Stormy Kromer hat. He’s everywhere down here. This is his dream. Jon Loveberry, everywhere you look.”
For generations of Loveberrys, this holiday season is not about getting through the first Christmas without Jon. Instead, the family is honoring their beloved patriarch by carrying on his legacy of spreading cheer by creating memories for other families looking to bring home a Loveberry Christmas tree.
“Nothing will overwhelm us. Because we lived with Jon Loveberry,” said Virginia Loveberry, his wife of 61 years.
Virginia now owns Loveberry Farms. Lisha is a sixth grade teacher for Marshall Public Schools, and her brother, Doug, is the owner of a campground on the Michigan-Ohio border. The two help with the tree operation, while additional staff are hired to help prune the trees and to take families on carriage rides on weekends, when Santa also makes an appearance at the farm.
“I spoke with people this weekend about how fun it is to be involved in so many Christmases and to see families come together,” Doug said. “But yet, that’s what happens for us too. Our family comes together because of this.”
The family’s Victorian-style home sits on a hill just a stone’s throw from the cabin and a lot filled with pre-cut Christmas trees. Inside the house, Christmas music played as Virginia shared stories about the man she married in 1958, a year after they graduated from Quincy High School.
“I didn’t want to go with Jon and didn’t want to have anything to do with him,” Virginia quipped. “But he showed me how a man, a guy, would treat a girl with respect. I never had anybody open the door for me. I felt almost embarrassed. My father was kind of a rough guy. So I thought, I couldn’t mess up on this because I think I need this guy in my life.”
After high school, Jon worked at the Quincy Ice Company before he and his brother Jim purchased Warner Oil Company in Coldwater in 1970. In 1974, with Virginia expecting the couple’s fifth child, they purchased the farm.
“Dad had never farmed before, and he wanted to try it. So he did,” Lisha said. “He was an entrepreneur and he just continued to reinvent himself over and over again. He was a business man, then on top of it a farmer, then on top of it a Christmas tree farmer.”
The Christmas tree farm didn’t come until later in life. The first tree seeds were planted at Loveberry Farms shortly after Jon retired from the petroleum industry in 2001. It opened its doors to the public in 2006 - it takes between four and 15 years for a Christmas tree to grow - and has remained a holiday destination in south central Michigan ever since.
“A guy that retired had a dream to start a new business,” Lisha said. “What a role model for people to look up to. You don’t have to stop. You keep dreaming.”
It wasn’t Jon’s first effort to plant Christmas trees. He had previously tried unsuccessfully on some land in Coldwater through a government program. Virginia believes the idea of running a Christmas tree farm was planted long before his retirement, when he would take his own family out to tree farms to cut their own.
“He was always anxious to get the tree,” Virginia said. “The last tree I remember all of us cutting down was so big. It was a disaster. ‘I don’t think it’s going to work.’ We tried to get it into the door. The branches didn’t lay, they were hanging. It was not a nice tree, but it had a big trunk.”
Lisha added, “The bad ones make the good stories.”
When he began running his own tree farm, Jon was known to give Christmas trees away to those who were in the military or those who had fallen on hard times. He at least would make the prices more affordable.
“This is personal. This isn’t selling trees to make money. It’s the people,” Doug said emotionally. “That was dad.”
Jon continued working the tree farm even as his health deteriorated. But, in September of 2019, he began having severe back pain and could no longer make it down to the log cabin. It was soon discovered he had bone cancer.
Eventually, it was determined Jon would receive around-the-clock care if he moved into Maple Lawn Nursing Home in Coldwater as he continued to fight cancer for the third time in his life.
“He was at Maple Lawn in his gown, I bent over the bed to kiss him and started to cry, and he said, ‘Now don’t start that!’” Virginia said. “The next day I went and said, ‘What am I going to do without you?’ And he said, ‘You are going to serve Jesus.’ So I took that as he does not want me to be unhappy.”
After Jon passed in April, he was buried at Lake View Cemetery in Quincy. The family was unable to hold a large funeral service due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they were grateful for the many visitors who stopped by in his final days.
Soon, the Loveberrys had to make a decision about the future of the farm. With Virginia’s blessing, they decided to forge ahead and plant seeds a week after his passing.
“It was really interesting how it was timed out that way,” Lisha said. “It was just the Lord bringing us together, because I don’t know if we wanted to do that at that moment, but we are doing it, like a labor of love for dad.”
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