The story behind the "Charlie Brown tree" in Hughson orchard
At the edge of an almond orchard south of Hughson there is one tree that is not like the others. It’s a bit scraggly and short, its branches aren’t as full and its yields not as great.
But several times a year, the almond tree at the southeast corner of Grayson and Tully roads becomes the most beautiful tree for miles, adorned in festive ornaments and other decorations for Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
If you’ve driven by, you might have paused to ponder its origins. Perhaps it has brightened your day. For some, the tree is a symbol of hope.
For the owners of the orchard, it a living, growing, evolving reminder of the teenaged daughter they lost 12 years ago.
In 2005, Kimber and David Genzoli’s daughter, Danielle, died in a vehicle wreck at the age of 16.
David Genzoli planted the orchard a few years before, and that tree on the corner languished.
“This little tree didn’t get water like the other trees and it was dying, and he was going to pull it out, but (Danielle) said ‘No. We’ve got to save the tree, Dad.’ So it kind of became their project,” Kimber Genzoli said.
Danielle called the tree her “Charlie Brown tree,” and from it they hung a single bulb ornament at Christmas. In the years that followed, they’d add a few more, Kimber Genzoli said.
The year Danielle died, David Genzoli didn’t have the heart to continue the tradition. But one day, he and Kimber went to the tree to find someone had decorated it with homemade ornaments. They never found out who, but suspect it might have been a neighbor.
“And it kind of morphed from there … people coming by just started adding to her tree,” Kimber Genzoli said. “It’s became a community project, and we are grateful for the people who contribute to this tree.”
From a single bulb, the tree at Christmas is now covered in ornaments and lights and even has a star tree topper.
Friends and strangers alike add ornaments, some personalized with pictures or their family name and the year.
People have left letters to the Genzoli family about Danielle’s kind heart and how she affected them, like one from a fellow student at Hughson High School who said Danielle one day sang “Don’t Worry Be Happy” to her when she saw her crying at school.
Kimber Genzoli said Halloween was Danielle’s favorite holiday, so a few years later, she hung some pumpkins from the tree and that, too, took on a life of its own, with people stopping by regularly to add decorations.
One year, Danielle’s first-grade teacher had her students make paper Valentines that hung from the tree in February. The tradition, too, has continued with Valentines from a new class each year.
After Christmas and Halloween, the Genzolis take down the decorations and store them until the following year, and every year the collection grows.
The tree isn’t the only tribute to Danielle. In 2010, Kimber and David, their son Ryan and a few close friends started a nonprofit to help youths and young adults in crisis called Danielle’s Gift.
The organization helps anyone up to the age of 21 who is in need. Primarily, it helps cover medical expenses for children but has taken on many cases, including helping to house, clothe and feed a homeless teen working toward her high school diploma. The group also has paid to fumigate a home infested with bed bugs where a young boy lived. Danielle’s Gift also contributes money to other local nonprofits that serve youth.
Kimber Genzoli said it was always Danielle’s dream “to help kids around the world.”
“This is how I survive, by trying to help someone else,” she said.
Both the charity and the tree help spread hope and happiness.
The reader who emailed The Bee about the tree, Kymn McGrath, said she has wondered about its history since she first saw it decorated for Valentine’s Day.
“I often travel from Turlock to Modesto on back roads and have been delighted numerous times to find a small tree in a corner of an orchard adorned with seasonal decorations,” she wrote in an email. “Whenever it is decorated, it always brings a big smile to my face.”
Kimber Genzoli said she’s heard many stories over the years from people about what the tree means to them.
For “some people ... that have suffered a loss that year, Christmas was very difficult and this tree for some reason was a beacon for them; it gives them hope. So everyone kind of has a story, whether it be about Danielle or what the tree does personally for them.”
To donate to or learn more about Danielle’s Gift visit daniellesgift.org.