WHEN HAL SCHUDEL, 95, was growing up in the tiny town of North Loup, Nebraska, he and his family were never without a Christmas tree around the holidays.
“In early times, we cut some cedar from our pastures,” he recalls. In subsequent years, the Schudels bought Douglas fir from their grocery store. “I remember the tag said ‘J. Hofert.’ Hofert was selling trees all over the United States at that time.”
Decades later, Schudel started his own Christmas tree nursery in 1955 with his hunting partner, Paul Goodmonson. Today, Schudel’s Holiday Tree Farms has grown to become the largest single exporter of Christmas trees in the world, shipping more than one million trees per year and grossing $25 million annually.
Schudel’s interest in growing trees came after earning his Ph.D. in agronomy from Oregon State University in 1953. Goodmonson also had a background in forestry. Ultimately the founding of Holiday Tree Farms was a financial decision. Schudel owned a lawn-and-turf business in the early 1950s, which “was good in the summer months, but left a gap in my income,” he recalls. “I needed to find a business that would generate income in the winter.”
Most Christmas trees in the mid-twentieth century were still grown in the wild, so the duo experimented with plantation growing on well-drained hillsides in western Oregon. For years, they relied on hand planting, hand clipping, handsaws and wagons or trucks for transporting. Schudel later bought Goodmonson’s interest in the company.
Today, the 250-person business swells to 700 around the holidays, generates its own seeds in a nursery, uses modern machinery and employs five helicopters to lift trees from 100 miles of company-owned plots scattered from Salem to Eugene. Schudel’s sons David, 68, Steven, 65, John, 60, and grandson Cory, 43, own and run the company while Schudel remains a consultant.
Schudel is grateful that the signature green Oregon Douglas, noble, Nordman, and grand firs continue to play an essential role in holiday memories, reaching destinations as far away as Puerto Rico and American Somoa.
“Christmas trees spread joy and goodwill,” he says. “I am very proud of the fact that Holiday is family owned, and now the third generation is involved. It’s a father’s dream come true.”