Terry spent most of his youth on a 50-acre Christmas Tree farm in a town smaller than Onondaga, called West Valley, about 50 miles outside of Buffalo, NY. His mother bought the farm in the 1950s and since then, he and his two older brothers and one older sister would come to the farm every summer to plant and cultivate the farm under the tutelage of his father Howard. The farm quickly grew into a business, which extended into having a number of Christmas tree lots in the Buffalo area during the holiday season. After he met his now wife, Emma, at orientation of college at Buffalo State University, she would ride on the back of his motorcycle to the farm on weekends and that was how they dated. Forty-six years later and their marriage and love are still growing strong. After bouncing around to a number of teaching jobs, Terry landed a job with Niagara Mohawk in Syracuse and then he and Emma settled into Sycamore Hills with their adopted daughter Amy, and a year later adopted Amanda. In 1999, in the process of Niagara Mohawk going out of business, Terry was laid off and, in that process, started his business McHugh Star Services, where he finds rare items and large equipment and re-sells them on eBay. In 2001, his mother Catherine passed away without details in her will as to who would take over the family Christmas tree farm. Since his brother Patrick lived next door to the property and was already running the tree lots, it was decided that he would take over the family business. A rift occurred between the two brothers wherein Patrick started charging Terry for Christmas trees even though he planted many of them growing up on the farm. Around this same time Terry found himself working for a now 101-year-old wealthy industrialist as his property manager in Syracuse and Brooklyn as well as a business manager helping to mediate problems within the company. In 2012, Terry purchased 4.97 acres of land only sixty feet from his current property with the intention of growing his own Christmas tree farm
Emma McHugh spent her youth in the Town of Cheektowaga just outside of Buffalo, NY and is the oldest of two sisters and one brother. Her father Phillip kept a Victory Garden in their backyard which is where Emma’s love for gardening and sustainable sourcing began. Her summers were spent with her family boating and fishing and camping with the Girl Scouts. She loved playing piano, violin, clarinet and accordion growing up as well as playing all sorts of sports. She attended Buffalo State where she met Terry and earned a bachelors and master’s degree in Home Economics. In the early years of her marriage with Terry, she made her and Terry Christmas stockings and Christmas tree ornaments out of household items such as cans and egg cartons which are treasured keepsakes the family still uses to this day. She started as a Home and Careers teacher and when she and Terry adopted Amy and Amanda, focused her energy on being a parent until Amanda was in school where she then became a Nursery school teacher and started her own wreath-making business which blossomed over the years during the holidays. Emma remains close to her siblings and spends every Christmas with her extended family at her sister Sharon’s home just outside of Buffalo. In 2001 Emma became the Home and Careers teacher at Amanda’s middle school Marcellus Central Schools. Emma is fully supportive of Terry’s dream and as she says in the film “his dream has become my dream.” Emma shows her support actively by helping in the yard and going door-to-door to her neighbors to encourage them to come to the town board of appeals final meeting which will determine the fate of Terry having his barn.
Amy McHugh was adopted at just a few days old from Florida by Terry and Emma and is the oldest of their two adopted daughters, Amy and Amanda. Amy grew up playing piano and French horn and found a love for photography on her 35mm camera. The friends she grew up with when she was just a baby, she still has strong friendships with to this day. They played volleyball, tennis and were in track together and have been in each other’s weddings. Amy went to Marist College in Poughkeepsie for Communications and got her master’s degree at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. She met her now husband (and during filming fiancée) while studying abroad in Sydney and has since gone back and forth between Syracuse and Sydney to maintain the relationship. During filming she and her fiancée Andy are living in Syracuse, as Andy is a graduate student at Syracuse University in forensic sciences and Amy is working as a professor of international communications, and alternative student advisor at SUNY Oswego. Amy loves her parents dog Dundee and often takes care of him as if he were her own. Amy is very supportive of her father’s pursuit although she does present a skeptical, realist point-of-view on the issue in that she doesn’t understand her father’s vehement obsession with overcoming the town’s obstacles and wonders sometimes why he doesn’t just move to a new neighborhood. Since filming, Amy and Andy have gotten married in front of the finished barn in their woods, and they now reside in Sydney where Amy continues to work as an adjunct professor and is a new mom.
Mike and Mary Fox
Mike and Mary Fox grew up and met in Buffalo, New York. They have been family-friends and neighbors for over thirty years, ever since Mike Fox nearly ran over Amanda flying down the neighborhood’s steepest hill with her bike out of control. Mary worked in HR for a number of Syracuse companies and Mike worked for the IRS. They are currently both retired and enjoy traveling together. Emma and Mary have been going on morning walks together for over two decades and the couple loves enjoying wine, dinners, holidays and going to the theater with Terry and Emma. Mary often makes an appearance in the film as being a very supportive and humorous figure in the film with her outgoing energy that is akin to Terrys. She fully understands Terrys drive to accomplish his dreams as she says in the film “the things I loved when I was young, I still love doing today.”
Kelly Matecki grew up as the first granddaughter on Terry’s side of the family to her father, Terry’s eldest brother, Howard. She and her younger brother Sean had a tough childhood as her mother Annette was sick for a long time and then passed away. She grew up playing on the family-farm and experienced her grandfather Charles as a rambunctious, fun guy who was always there for her. Her father remarried to Sandy and had two daughters Maggie and Jessie. Just before the start of filming Howard passed away. She is how a hair stylist in Elma near Buffalo, with college-aged twin sons and a daughter.
Ted McHugh was Terry’s eldest cousin. He grew up near Buffalo, New York on his father. Terry’s uncle, own Christmas tree farm. He recounts in his interview, how his father and Terry’s father had an argument about how the Christmas tree farm should be run, and so he broke off from McHugh Family Trees (Terry’s father’s farm) and started his own about a decade down the line. After his father passed away, his mother ran it for a while as they had Christmas tree lots in Buffalo covering areas that McHugh Family Trees did not. Since, Ted founded McHugh Art Studio, where he has become a well-known leaded-glass artist, repairing many churches in the Buffalo area. He also started his own Christmas tree farm, however about a decade in right when the trees had reached full growth, he lost 2/3 of the trees to deer and extreme weather shifts; after this he gave up on Christmas tree farming. Two years after filming his interview, Ted passed away and his son Pat took over his business as a stained-glass artist. The film will be in-part dedicated to him.
Chris Finkle has been Terry and Emma’s next-door neighbor and friend for nearly two decades. He is a retired assistant superintendent of north Syracuse central schools. Now he and his wife have a business restoring antique chests. He fully participates in neighborhood activities and he and Terry help each other with their own building projects very frequently. In the film we can see Terry assisting Chris with his chests and Chris standing up for Terry at the final town board of appeals meeting.
Phil Sauro has been in the neighborhood for over ten years and has one son and one daughter. He sells food products to restaurants and has very strong feelings about the local government. From his own experience as well as hearing from others he recounts how Mr. Ryan, the one who wouldn’t accept Terry and Emma’s permit application, is not the easiest person to work with and says very blatantly to the camera exactly what he thinks of him.