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Sylvia’s Angel Tree illuminates University Avenue

Carving in honor of Sylvia Chico brings joy to passers-by

By Jade Ruggieri

An angel appeared recently on University Avenue.

A maple oak tree sits on Charlie Chico’s lawn, across from WVU’s law school, and splits into two large branches about 6 or 7 feet, almost like wings. For anyone else, a dying tree means cutting it down, but when Chico had a local contractor cut down the higher branches, he told the contractor to stop because he saw something else.

After searching, “and searching and searching,” Chico found the Mason Dixon Boys, who specialize in wood chainsaw carving. He gave them a call, they came up and, within five hours or less, the job was done. Not just a maple tree anymore — it is now Sylvia’s Angel Tree.

Married for 57 years, both Charlie and Sylvia Chico are Morgantown natives who met at the Chico Dairy Company when Charlie’s father hired her as a receptionist. Chico said he and Sylvia’s secret to their marriage was “every day is a new day,” which they would cling to when they disagreed. Not that it happened often — Chico said they agreed 95% of the time.   

Sylvia passed in April 2022, but left a lasting memory on the city of Morgantown.

“I never left her side — never,” Charlie Chico said. “Every minute she was in the hospital, I was in the hospital with her.”

For 53 years, Sylvia volunteered for Mental Health America for Monongalia, Marion and Preston counties and received the Jefferson Award for Community service. Sylvia started Operation Santa Claus with the help of volunteers, local businesses and the Monongalia Sheriff’s Department to spread holiday cheer at William R. Sharp Jr. Hospital, formerly Weston State Hospital.

Additionally, Chico participated in the Kitchen Angels at St. John’s University Parish in Morgantown, providing food for funerals and special occasions at the church.

“To me, [she] should be considered an angel — that’s what angels do. She collected angels for a long time, she’s an angel to the Mental Health Association and the patients at the hospital, she’s a Kitchen Angel and she was my angel.”

While Chico said Sylvia would be embarrassed by the tree because she is a giver, not a taker, he also said Sylvia would be happy with it.

“What they [The Mason Dixon Boys] did was probably close to 10,000 times better than I ever expected,” Chico said.

When coming up with the idea, Chico saw the branches and the tree, thinking it could become a large angel before the carving started. The tree reminded him of a story he heard about a boy with had mental challenges who carved a beautiful horse. When asked how the boy carved the horse, he responded, “Well, I saw the horse, so I just cut everything away that wasn’t a horse.”

Travis Crook and Joe Yancey, owners of the Mason Dixon Boys, started their company in 2018 full-time and said they’ve been very blessed to have the gift of chainsaw carving, using their skills across several states, and their partnership with Tractor Supply Company.

With a lot of research, as Crook and Yancey usually operate through Facebook or word-of-mouth, Chico found and emailed them about his vision for the tree. From there, Crook and Yancey leaned on their own faith to help bring that vision to life.

“We’re just a couple of chainsaw carvers saved by grace,” Crook said. “The tree he had, had some bad spots in it and we had to pray a little bit about how we were going to do it. Through the grace of God, he found a way for us to put an angel in there that was a pretty good rendition of Sylvia that Charlie told us.”

Crook said the importance of doing projects like these is about talking to people and what they want, and often asking the Holy Spirit to help guide them. Much like Chico’s story, the Mason Dixon Boys said wood carving is induction art where pieces are taken away to make the final piece, just without an eraser.

When they finished the project, they were relieved because they wanted to fulfill Chico’s vision as a visual translation.

“It’s something you can’t mess up; you only get one shot,” Crook said. “When you get that project completed, there’s an overwhelming relief. Especially in Charlie’s case, when you have such a spiritual connection to it, you get a very big rush of emotion.”

The reason the angel is darker in color than the outside wood is that the Mason Dixon Boys put oil on the angel to preserve the carving and to keep bugs and water out, so the angel can withstand the outside climate.

Through this process, Chico said he did not tell anyone of his plans until halfway through the day of the carving. Chico called his daughter, Lisa, who lives in Morgantown, and said, “Get up here and get up now.”

Lisa’s response when she saw the tree was, “Dad, he’s already done a better job than I expected to see at the end”

While Yancey and Crook were grinding with their chainsaws, about 10 or 15 people honked their horns to let them know they were doing a great job. Since completed, Chico said people have pulled off to the side of the street and taken pictures.

“One of my wife’s friends said, ‘She’s making people smile and her bright smile, looking at that tree, is brightening up everything in heaven,’” Chico said.

While he’d rather have his wife sitting at the dinner table than see the tree representing her, what might surprise those who have seen the carving is that Chico said he has not really thought about the tree as accomplishment for himself. Instead, Chico said he is touched by the outpouring of support from the community reaching out to him.

“I’m proud of that tree. It’s a wonderful tribute to her and it makes me feel good to see it myself, but to get all these phone, calls, emails and text messages makes me proud that I did what I did.”

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