Christmas tree growers Cathy and the late Frank Genovese were inducted into the Michigan Christmas Tree Association’s Growers Hall of Fame at the organization’s summer meeting, held Aug. 1 and 2 at Gwinn’s Christmas Tree Farm. The couple is recognized for their lifetime of service to the state’s Christmas tree industry.
Cathy Genovese and her late husband Frank were inducted into the Michigan Christmas Tree Association Growers Hall of Fame last month at their annual meeting.
By planting trees in 1978 in Oxford, Mich., the Genoveses started what is now Candy Cane Christmas Tree Farm. They chose “Candy Cane Christmas Tree Farm” as a name people would remember.
“The candy cane was invented by candy makers to signify the staff of the shepherds who came to see Jesus in Bethlehem to celebrate his birth,” Cathy Genovese said. “As growers of Christmas trees, we hope our product will help our customers celebrate the season of Christ's birth.”
Starting out, Cathy said they knew nothing about growing Christmas trees, except that Frank worked at his uncle's tree farm in Kalkaska one summer as a teen.
“Our thought was to make the land productive while not having to tend it,” Cathy added. “Plant them and they will grow, we thought. Yeah, right. We lost so many trees to drought, insects and weeds.”
After a couple of years of mistakes, the Genoveses found help and friendship with other growers through the Michigan Christmas Tree Association. Like many new members, they attended every seminar and tried to assimilate all they could.
Cathy admits the early years were trying as they worked 40-plus hours a week at their day jobs and spent weekends working on the farm. But in 1987, they sold their first couple of hundred trees.
At that time, they had no barn, no servicing, a handful of saws, a bucket of twine and a pickup truck. However, in 1989, they built their house and barn on the farm and improved field management and service, as they were able to start purchasing equipment.
Frank loved farming and wanted to try new tree varieties, but moderation was not in his nature. At one point, he had about 45 varieties of evergreens, potted living trees, and deciduous trees. However, he quickly learned to stick to the varieties that the customers enjoyed and grew well in their soil.
Frank also liked to trim his trees with a more open look, a “Victorian style.” He found that his customers liked this too because it allowed them to better showcase their ornaments on their tree.
Frank and Cathy became actively involved in the Christmas tree industry and both served on the MCTA Board of Directors. Cathy was the first and only female president of the MCTA serving from 1995-1996. In total, Cathy served nine years on the MCTA Board while Frank served six years.
In 2002, Frank took early retirement from his work as a probation officer. Cathy had retired in 1990 to become a stay-at-home mother to sons, Nicholas and Michael. The change to retirement allowed them more time to devote to raising their family and improving the tree operation.
Along with their children, they became involved with 4-H and the Oakland County Farm Bureau. These organizations helped them expand their horizon as farmers. Both Frank and Cathy served on their county Farm Bureau board.
In 1985, Cathy was one of 20 people selected in Michigan to be part of a three-year leadership program called "Leadership Dynamics in Forestry.” This group explored principles of leadership, policy and government on a state, national and international level.
In the late 1990s, Cathy served on Oakland County MSU Extension Council for several years. She also served on the board of the Food Bank of Oakland County, which later merged with Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeast Michigan for a total of 10 years.
Currently, Cathy is serving on the Farm Bureau State Promotion and Education Committee. Honored and grateful to receive the 2019 MCTA Growers Hall of Fame Award, Cathy said Frank would’ve also been "over the moon" happy to be honored in this way.
Frank and Cathy married on Oct. 24, 1975. They had just celebrated 43 years of marriage shortly before Frank passed away on Nov. 10, 2018. Friends and family remember Frank as a special man who affected the lives of many people.