Portales residents replace stolen tree

Freedom New Mexico: Alisa Boswell The stump of Mary Standefer’s old tree rests next to her new one, which was given to her from a combined effort between friends and strangers. Standefer said the act of kindness made her realize how many wonderful people are in the world.

Alisa Boswell

Portales residents banded together to give local resident Mary Standefer a Christmas present to last a lifetime, replacing a pine tree stolen from her front yard just before Christmas.

The Colorado short-needled pine tree had been given to Standefer by her father 30 years ago.

“I was getting ready to leave for Houston and I saw four people in my front yard. I didn’t know anything about it until they were out there planting it,” Standefer said. “I was surprised. They acted like they knew exactly what they were doing.”

Standefer said the men told her they were there to plant a tree, but having a flight to catch, she didn’t have time for questions.

Sure enough, upon returning home last week, a small Colorado evergreen stood waiting in her yard.

“It was almost like walking out and catching Santa Claus,” Standefer said of the new tree being planted. “It just let’s you know how many nice people there are in the world, some friends and some strangers. It restores your faith in people.”

The inspiration behind replacing the tree was Portales resident Kathleen Kiehne, who went to her neighbors to ask for donations to buy Standefer a new tree after reading the previous one had been stolen.

“I became reacquainted with Mary in Curves. I scheduled to where I could go at the same time as her, because she is such an amazing lady,” Kiehne said. “When I read the story in the paper, it broke my heart.”

Kiehne said one of the neighbors she went to for help was True Value owner Max Merrick, who rather than giving her money, told her he would just donate a tree for Standefer.

“After that, I went to another neighbor, Kenny Smith, who is a landscaper, and he went straight to True Value and got the tree and had it planted within an hour,” Kiehne said, laughing.

Kiehne said they had intended the tree to be an anonymous donation, and it was to be planted during Standefer’s absence, but things circulated much more quickly than she had thought they would.

“The people I talked to were super enthused about it and they said ‘yes,’ come back and let us know the cost of the tree and we’ll give you money,” Kiehne said. “This might be a Christmas story for her family for generations to come. It won’t just go away. It will be told and retold.”

Kiehne told Standefer she knew the new tree could not fully replace the previous one because of the memories associated with it.

“I told her, ‘but it will.’ It’s replacing it with more people who care,” Standefer said. “It takes the place of the feeling behind it. I will equally care for this one, because it has its own special meaning.”