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Holiday tree planted to honor former Pawnee Commissioner
Permanent tree decorated for the Christmas holiday dedicated to former Commissioner Gary Caplinger.
Larned tree lighting
At left, Masel Caplinger and Alex Filbert lead the crowd in a cheer as Larned’s permanent tree is dedicated Friday evening at the Courthouse.

LARNED — Larned ushered in the month of December in Hallmark style Friday evening.

As townfolk scurried back and forth across Broadway to businesses open late for the evening, a small but dedicated contingent gathered on the sidewalk for a special tree lighting ceremony. The night may have been chilly, but hearts were warm as the Pawnee County Commissioners dedicated a permanent tree decorated for the Christmas holiday to former Commissioner Gary Caplinger.

Larned Area Chamber Executive Director Alex Filbert helped warm up the crowd in her welcoming address. “We want to thank our Pawnee County Commissioners for letting us plant a nice, beautiful tree that we can light and decorate for years and years to come,” she said, “not having to worry about hauling one in and the wind knocking it down from its supporting wires.”

For the past several years, a temporary tree had been brought in to kick off the community’s holiday season.

This year, however, Filbert approached the commissioners with the idea of a permanent tree. With the commissioners’ approval, a tree was selected from Delp Christmas Tree Farm in St. John. Arensman Tree Service of Kinsley transported the tree to the Pawnee County Courthouse lawn earlier in the week and did the planting. 

City electric department employees hung the lights and ornaments were created and placed by Fort Larned Elementary School students.

Commission Chairman Bob Rein provided the dedication. “First, I want to thank Alex for the idea for this tree,” he said. “She has been after us for several years with an idea for a permanent tree and it’s an even better idea to just go ahead and plant one.”

Honoring Gary Caplinger

A man of varied talents, Caplinger was nearing completion of his first term of office as County Commissioner when he passed away in 2018. He came to Larned as a band instructor, was owner and operator of Palace Clothier on Broadway, was a Farm Bureau agent in Pawnee County, and was a staff educator and quality management coordinator at Larned State Hospital prior to his term of office.

Rein noted that when he was running for a seat on the county commission seven years ago, Caplinger was the first to offer his congratulations and tips on being a county commissioner.

“He was welcoming me before I was even really on board,” Rein said. “He was really a very level-headed man and I still think of him sometimes while we are meeting in that room up there (the commissioner’s meeting room).”

Caplinger’s wife Masel, with many of her family in attendance, had the honor of lighting the tree.

“My family did say what a kind and caring community I live in and I feel the same way,” Masel said. “This is just wonderful. It makes my heart very full.”

Counting down from 10, the tree was lit and a cheer arose from the crowd.

The evening was concluded with a chorus of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”