The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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January 3, 2014

VIDEO: Via Christi surgery center reaches milestone

PITTSBURG, Kan. — The last evergreen to leave the Bowen Christmas Tree Farm wasn’t one under which presents would be placed — it was one that wound up on top of a hospital.

The tree, donated by Jim and Karen Bowen, was one of the centerpieces of a ceremony held Friday morning. It was a practice that Via Christi President and Chief Executive Officer Randy Cason said dates to ancient times.

Called “topping out” or “topping off,” it’s an event traditionally held when the last beam is placed at the highest point of a building project.

“It’s a cherished custom when the skeleton is complete,” Cason told a group of residents, hospital stakeholders, city and elected officials who gathered in the hospital’s worship center.

As the ceremony progressed, attendees watched a crane lift the tree and an American flag into place on top of the hospital’s new $20 million surgery center.

Workers also bolted into place on the center’s roof three white beams signed by attendees and workers prior to the ceremony.

It’s the first such ceremony to be held at Via Christi, but has been a practice in the American construction industry since skyscrapers began going up in New York City, Cason said.

Historical records show the tradition likely migrated to America with European craftspeople, having been commonplace in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Poland. Most sources cite its origins in Scandinavia, where the religious practice of placing a tree on top of a new building to appease the tree-dwelling spirits of their ancestors that had been displaced.

Cason said the tree and flag were a sign of respect to the workers and to the nation, and a sign that the hospital is growing.

“It’s a milestone event between the groundbreaking and the final product, but also a blessing for the work and the workers,” he said.

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