Few people know the tree called Bob by name. But a surprising number of Honolulu residents know it by sight.

Bob is a giant of a tree, a Norfolk Island pine standing some 100 feet tall and almost filling the front yard of a home on Pueo Street in Kahala, not too far from Kahala Avenue. It’s not the only large tree in the area, but it appears to be the tallest, extending above stately coconut trees along the block.

Years ago, a neighbor across the street suggested her young son give the tree a name.

He called it Bob.

A tree of that size is noticeable year-round, but during the Christmas season it is decorated with long strands of lights, transforming it from a neighborhood landmark into a regional beacon of holiday cheer.

Draped in 27 strands of LED rope lights, the Christmas tree named Bob is visible from many spots around Honolulu.

Ian Lind/Civil Beat

You can see the long ropes of LED lights that hang gracefully down its branches from the elevated section of the freeway along Kahala Mall, from parts of Kaimuki or from the heights above Kahala. It’s even visible for blocks when viewed from ground level.

“Someone told me she could see it from Tantalus,” said Tricia Schulz, who with her husband, Robert, co-founder and director of the Burn Center at Straub, have made lighting the tree part of their holiday ritual for nearly two decades.

Tricia Schulz recalls that not long after buying the house in 1999, her husband toyed with the idea of cutting the tree down, but one of his children suggested hanging  Christmas lights on it instead. Thus began a family tradition, and an annual light show eagerly awaited by Kahala neighbors and strangers alike.

The lights outside are only part of the Schulzes’ holiday decorations. There are four more Christmas trees in the house, including a fully decorated tree just inside the front door. Visitors to the home are also greeted by a miniature winter scene, a village displayed on a table top about 6 feet long, featuring dozens of tiny buildings, homes and businesses, trees, vehicles, and people arrayed along quant streets.

“We get notes in our mailbox. People stop to talk. It has brought us so much joy.” — Tricia Schulz

The individual pieces, all collectibles, were accumulated over decades, Tricia Schulz said.

I asked about the roots of her passion for things Christmas.

“I’m from Connecticut,” she said, as if, for those in the know, that’s all the answer needed.

Then, in further explanation: “Christmas was always the highlight of the year.”

One evening this week, a light but steady stream of cars drove down the block, slowing to a crawl as they neared the tree.

Parents pushed baby strollers down the sidewalk, or accompanied groups of kids for a walk past the tree. Dog-walkers detoured to get a better look.

This all starts when the lights go up in early December.

“Cars stop. The kids get out, and pictures are taken standing in front of the tree. Boyfriends and girlfriends walk up and just stand, hugging each other,” Tricia Schulz said. “We get notes in our mailbox. People stop to talk.”

“It has brought us so much joy.”

She said the tree was most likely planted when the house was built the late-1940s.

“And now it’s an old man.”

She estimated they’ve been decorating Bob for about 15 years, with heavy lifting done by Wayne Hu and his tree maintenance crew from Eager Beavers LLC in Ewa Beach.

Hu, in a telephone interview, estimated they’ve been at it somewhat longer.

“My daughter is now 18,” he said. “And I remember she was just an infant when I came back after lighting the tree the first time.”

Those early days were a struggle, Hu recalled.

“I used to have to climb the tree,” he said. “Imagine trying to go through a stick forest all the way to the top of this tree, then standing there for four or five hours, hauling lights up and down with ropes.”

“It wasn’t one of my better moments,” said Hu, a former ironworker and certified welder.

For the last several years, he has been using a “cherry picker” lift  to get near the top of the tree. Hu said it now takes about five hours to set up and string the lights. This year, for the first time, they used 27 strands of LED rope lights, each 100 feet long.

“The rope lights are brighter, but heavier, and we had trouble hanging them in place,” Hu said.  “Five fell down, and we had to return last weekend. We redid all the lights, and then had to run a new 150-foot extension cord for the light on the top of the tree.”

The tip of the tree isn’t strong enough to hold that crowning light, so it is fixed onto an aluminum extension pole and then strapped to the trunk near the top and extending above it.

The lights stay up until mid-January.

Hu said they do some pruning and trimming of the tree when taking down the lights.

“We try to keep the tree healthy and structurally sound,” he said. And new growth can be seen in areas that have been pruned.

Hu said that a few neighbors gather each year to watch as the lights are being put up, but his role has remained largely invisible. He doesn’t seem to mind.

I asked Tricia Schulz whether all the public attention drawn by the lights has intruded on the family’s privacy.

“No,” she said with a smile. “They only have eyes for the tree.”

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