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The Dash Between: Christmas tree farmer Avery Wilcox Sr. had deep roots in LaGrange

Avery H. Wilcox Sr. offered free hot chocolate, pleasant conversation and a place to get warm to people, who came to his LaGrange Township farm from as far away as Cleveland, Sandusky and Akron to buy Christmas trees.

The lifelong LaGrange Township resident, who died Jan. 22, 2011, at age 83, sold thousands of evergreens each year, including such varieties as blue spruce, Scotch pine and Austrian pine.

“We had a lot that were pre-cut trees,” said his son, Avery II, who continues to run the Wilcox Tree Farm with his brothers, Steve and Greg. “We had choose-and-cut trees, where you could cut your own, and balled-and-burlapped trees to plant in your yard.”

More photos below.

The pre-cuts were displayed near the front of the property on Diagonal Road, as were trees that had been dug from the ground with the roots and the soil that clung to them wrapped in burlap.

Customers could walk or get a lift on a tractor-pulled wagon to the groves to select their own trees and cut them down.

“We supplied the saws and the tractor ride,” said Vic Long, a neighbor who has helped with tree sales for 18 Christmases. “People would go back on our wagon. We’d come back and haul the trees.”

The Dash Between: About this feature

The dates of birth and death that appear like bookends on a tombstone do not matter as much as the dash between those dates.

Award-winning writer Alana Baranick has made her living writing about the dash between. She’s focusing on Lorain and Medina counties and those who have made our area the unique and interesting place it is. Look for her stories on alternating Sundays and visit

www.chroniclet.com to find additional photographs.

The Dash Between is scheduled to appear twice a month in The Chronicle-Telegram. To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at abaranick@chroniclet.com or (440) 731-8340.

Today, Alana Baranick examines The Dash Between March 5, 1927, when Avery H. Wilcox Sr. was born on the family farm in LaGrange Township, and Jan. 22, 2011, when the Christmas tree farmer died at age 83.

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Long or another worker would put the tree into a gizmo to shake dead pine needles, dirt and other debris from the branches. Then a baler was used to wrap the tree like a gift.

“It wraps the tree up rather than having all the limbs hanging out,” Long said. “It’s easier for people to load them and take them into the house.”

While waiting for workers to do the heavy lifting, visitors could visit the Christmas gift shop or go into a heated backroom to get warm.

The shop was stocked with knickknacks, Amish cheese, trail bologna, wreathes and pine roping.

“He always liked to sit in the building and talk to people and just be there while the operation was going on in his later years,” Long said. “He was a good businessman. He knew how to talk with people and make them feel comfortable when they came to town.”

Avery’s family roots run deep in LaGrange Township. His paternal great-grandparents were among the community’s early settlers. His paternal grandparents moved to Cleveland near the end of the 19th century, but returned to the old homestead in 1909.

His father, who was born in Cleveland, developed a love for farming and the LaGrange community, which Avery inherited.

Avery Hubbard Wilcox was born March 5, 1927, on the family farm, where he grew up with his older siblings, Fred and Leolyn.

Although he didn’t often wander far from home, Avery did travel as far as Oregon to visit his sister.

“She married a rancher.” his son said. “I think his sister was a dietitian. When I was kid, she worked in Cincinnati. His brother lived in Cleveland and worked for NASA. He was an engineer from what I understand.”

Avery had only one career goal.

“He wanted to farm,” his son said. “His love was farming.”

As a youngster, Avery learned about farming through hands-on experience, the 4H Juvenile Farmers and the Old Glory Grange’s Junior Grange. Years later, he would teach his own kids about farming, become an adviser for the 4H club and serve as master of the Grange.

He graduated in 1945 from LaGrange High School, where he met his classmate and future wife, Stella Duplaga. They were married Feb. 15, 1947, and went on to raise three sons, lots of chickens and sheep and thousands of pine trees.

Avery started planting Christmas trees in 1963 on land formerly used for dairy farming. The pragmatic farmer, who also worked at Pfaudler Co. in Elyria for 20 years, did this because evergreens grow well in the soil there.

It takes at least six years for the 6-inch-to-foot-tall saplings he planted to grow large enough to be sold as vehicles for exhibiting holiday ornaments, colored lights and tinsel.

A few months after each tall tree was removed, Avery and company planted its baby replacement.

As the tree farm thrived, Avery recruited neighbors, teenagers looking for part-time jobs, his wife, sons and brother-in-law, Ed Duplaga, to help with the spring planting, summer trimming and winter selling of trees.

“It’s a friendly and good place to work,” his brother-in-law said. “Everybody liked Big Avery. That’s what we called him. And his son was Little Avery. He was easy to get along with.”

A few years after his first wife died in 1980, Avery married his second wife, Betty. The pair worked together, along with other Old Glory Grange members, in the cafeteria at the Lorain County Fair.

Betty also helped with the tree farm, but was more likely to make wreathes and pine roping than to cut down trees.

“They always opened up for business the day after Thanksgiving,” Long said. “There were even some people that would come after Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday. He would take them out to find a tree. He wouldn’t turn them away.”

Contact Alana Baranick at (440) 731-8340 or abaranick@chroniclet.com.

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