School of Medicine

Wayne State University School of Medicine

Neurology professor finds creative outlet in Festival of Trees volunteering

Paula Dore-Duffy, Ph.D.

Paula Dore-Duffy, Ph.D.

Dr. Dore-Duffy designed and decorated this floral-themed Christmas tree.

Dr. Dore-Duffy designed and decorated this floral-themed Christmas tree.

This Grinch-topped tree was among Dr. Dore-Duffy's donations to the Festival of Trees.

This Grinch-topped tree was among Dr. Dore-Duffy's donations to the Festival of Trees.

When she’s not in the Neurology lab, Paula Dore-Duffy, Ph.D., just might be out shopping for holiday ornaments, ribbons and other seasonal items for one of southeast Michigan’s oldest annual Christmas traditions: the Festival of Trees.

Dr. Dore-Duffy, Wayne State University School of Medicine professor of Neurology and chief of the Division of Neuroimmunology, has spent the last 12 years designing, decorating and donating themed Christmas trees of varying sizes for the Festival of Trees, the largest annual special event fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation.

The event, founded in 1985, is held annually the week of Thanksgiving at the Ford Community Center for the Performing Arts in Dearborn, and was previously hosted at Detroit’s Cobo Center. Completed trees, donated each year by as many as 165 decorating volunteers like Dr. Dore-Duffy, are sold to the public or sponsored by individuals or companies.

Funds raised support pediatric research initiatives through the Evergreen Endowment, said Theresa Diefenbach, director and event coordinator for the festival, who counts Dr. Dore-Duffy’s trees among the most popular each year.

“Dr. Duffy has always created wonderful trees, with themes that vary from children's, elegant, whimsical and traditional,” she said. “Her trees are almost always guaranteed to be ‘Special Santa'd,’ which means we have a sponsor that pre-buys a tree. We can assign at least one of her designs to that sponsor, and know it will be exactly what the sponsor would want.”

Dr. Dore-Duffy has won several awards for her entries, including a silver ribbon in the children’s theme category this year. She also has won best of show three times, best of children’s theme, best of the 7-foot tree category, plus several silver ribbons and one third-place ribbon.

“That she has been with us for 12 years is a wonderful show of support for our organization. While we have had some designers for longer, and some more recent, it shows a commitment to our efforts to raise funds for pediatric research,” Diefenbach said.

Dr. Dore-Duffy spends months designing the trees, and up to two full days decorating. She buys all the supplies and decorations, including the tree itself.

“The trees used to be a seasonal event, but now I work on them all year long,” she said. “I consider the tree designs as a three-dimensional sculpture, a piece of art.”

Her holiday enthusiasm isn’t limited to Michigan, as she just decorated and donated a tree to the Nantucket (Mass.) Whaling Museum for a fundraiser.

Decorating alleviates stress for the faculty member, who took art classes in college and has painted most of her life.

“Science and art go hand in hand.  The more creative you are, the better the research,” she said.

The Bloomfield Hills resident joined Wayne State University’s faculty 24 years ago. She encourages other Wayne State faculty and staff to get involved in 2013, perhaps by attending the opening party or sponsoring a tree.

She won her first award for a Gaelic-themed tree in just her second year with the festival, besting 165 other designs. Her personal favorite is a tree based on the “Madagascar” children’s films, which take place on the African island of Madagascar. The 4-foot tree stood on a 3-foot stand representing an African floral arrangement, with the film’s characters placed in the tree and on the tree stand. At the top rested a talking King Julien, a lemur in the films voiced by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.

“I had offers for the tree while decorating it but I took it home as a Special Santa,” she said. “I do not have the heart to ‘un’-decorate it. It is in my living room with a matching mantel.”
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