A gift for Bellevue

The centerpiece of Bellevue’s holiday celebration, a 25-foot tree decorated for the season, was donated by Helen Bracken, wife of former police chief Bill Bracken. The massive evergreen was grown at their Bellevue home, and donated to the community when a last-minute glitch interfered with plans for another tree. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

Over the past several decades, the Bracken name has been closely associated with Bellevue.

Bill Bracken, a police officer there for almost 40 years, held the post of police chief, as well.

And there is Helen Bracken, Bill's widow, 86 years a resident of the town that she still loves, even though several of her friends and relatives are no longer here.

So many changes, but one constant that Bill followed until his passing and that Helen continues to follow: a sense of community giving, sharing, volunteering.

No surprise, then, that when Bellevue Mayor Paul Cusick asked for a favor for this year's holiday festivities, Helen granted that favor by donating a blue spruce --25 feet, at least -- that lit up to the "Oohs!" and "Ahs!" from the holiday crowd of close to 1,000 who turned out last Friday night to celebrate Bellevue's holiday celebration along Lincoln Ave.

The gift that will spread cheer for the next few weeks was just a seedling when Bill and Helen planted it in their back yard and years later, transplanted to their front yard.

Last summer, when Helen and her daughter Ginny were sitting on the front porch, Helen mentioned that much of the shrubbery had grown so tall.

Ginny recalls that conversation, noting that Helen mentioned how perfectly her pine trees grew in good old Bellevue soil. "She said, 'Everything grows better in the rich, black, Bellevue soil.'"

But she also realized that the pines were becoming too large for the space, and she thought that one would make a lovely Christmas tree for a church or someplace special.

When the opportunity came along, Helen was thrilled.

"Bellevue had some other plan for this year's tree, but it fell through. The mayor called. I was happy to do it," Helen said.

The donation provided one more way that Helen feels that she could serve her community, just as her family has done for so many years.

Stopping by on a warm December afternoon to admire her gift, Helen smiled as she looked up at the tree that she and Bill had nurtured so many years ago. She noticed some birds flitting deep into the branches and then flying out.

"I bet there's a nest in there," she said with a smile and a nod. "It probably stayed in the tree, even after it was cut down and brought here."

Who would question Helen's observation? Who would want to?

And certainly, everyone would agree with her final thoughts on the display.

"Whoever decorated it did a beautiful job. It's just so nice that the people of Bellevue have a tree that was grown in Bellevue."