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Big Christmas tree near St. Mary's, toll road exit came from a South Bend resident's backyard

If you’ve recently driven up Highway 933 near the University of Notre Dame, you’ve probably noticed the giant Christmas tree right next to the Indiana Toll Road entrance. A few weeks ago, that tree stood in a South Bend resident’s backyard.

Karla Levy lives on South Bend’s East Side, about five minutes away from the University of Notre Dame.

And for the past 20 years, she’s had a massive Eastern White Pine tree in her backyard. It’s about 60 years old and 70 feet tall, and the trunk is about eight feet wide.

“It’s been around many seasons, many seasons,” Levy said. “My daughter — she’s 17 now, and so she grew up jumping on the trampoline, sitting by this tree for shade.”

But now, it has a new life as Indiana’s tallest outdoor decorated Christmas tree. Several weeks ago, the tree was installed outside of the Inn at St. Mary’s, on the corner of Highway 933 and the Indiana Toll Road entrance.

Holladay Properties, a local property development company, has been installing a Christmas tree in that spot for the past several years.

Levy said she knew the company’s chairman, John Phair, from some work she did with the Boys & Girls Club many years ago.

She said he happened to be passing through her neighborhood, saw the tree, knocked on her door and asked if they could use it.

Levy then met with the company, saw some photos of past trees and thought about it for a few days before deciding to say yes.

“I’m a festive person — I love the holiday session,” she said. “And with all that we have going on right now with COVID and people losing their family members, anything that we can do to restore joy and faith and love back into our community, why not?”

Getting the tree out of her yard was a lot of work. First, Holladay brought in a team to assess if it was healthy enough to be moved.

Then, the company coordinated with her neighbors as the street had to be blocked, cut down the tree and lifted it out of her backyard with a crane.

“It brought my neighbors out and talking,” she said. “You know, coming out with hot chocolate and coffee, and kids are coming out and watching.”

It spent the night on a flatbed truck on the street and was given a police escort to St. Mary’s the next day.

Credit Provided by Holladay Properties
The tree was transported from Levy's house to the Inn at St. Mary's via flatbed truck, and lifted into place with a crane.

Levy attended the lighting ceremony with her daughter, Saniah. She said seeing her old tree decked out — it has ten thousand lights and six hundred and seventy-five ornaments — filled her with warmth.

“Watching these kids do a countdown, and when we flicked the switch just seeing them excited and happy — that’s really what Christmas and the holidays are about,” she said.

Her backyard looks pretty different now, but Levy said it won’t really hit her until spring. But she loves being out in her backyard — and says she definitely needs to do something with the new space.

“I don’t have the know-how to really do any landscaping back there, so if anyone has any ideas, contact me!” she said. “Give me suggestions, good people! What can I do back there?”

Click here to reach Levy by email.

The tree should be up until sometime in January.

Contact Jakob at or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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Jakob Lazzaro came to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.