Family-run Centennial Pines Tree Farm has deep roots in Goodells community

As a Christmas tree farm, Centennial Pines Tree Farm in Goodells has been a part of the community for nearly 50 years, but the property and its family have an even longer history.

No less than six generations of Michael “Mike” Wendling’s family have lived and worked on the 120-acre property on Bricker Road which, before its life as a tree farm, was largely used for cash crops and cattle farming.

“We traced the land back to 1850,” Wendling says. “It has always been a farm, but it was a crop farm before that. My parents were both teachers at Port Huron Area School District and they were looking for something to do in the summers so they started planting Christmas trees in the ‘60s.”

Wendling’s father Don died in 1979 in a farming accident on the property just a few years after Centennial Pines Tree Farm’s first crop came in.

“When my father passed away, I started doing the farm at like 13 and I’ve been here doing it since then,” he says.

Owned by Mike Wendling's family for more than 150 years, his childhood home is located on the property alongside Centennial Pines Tree Farm.

He, his mother Helen, and his sisters Andrea and Michele continued to work on the farm before eventually deciding to focus solely on Christmas trees.

“My mom was here and she was a widow, so she couldn’t do it herself,” Wendling says. “So I stayed. I went to Michigan State and came back every weekend and worked on the farm … My sisters moved, but they're here a lot and help a lot too.”

Wendling who works full-time as a St. Clair County Prosecuting Attorney, says he specifically chose his career in Port Huron because of its proximity to the farm.

“My mom used to say you're putting yourself through college here, this is how I'm going to send you kids to college,” Wendling says. “As a widow, she sent me to law school, my other sister to law school, and my other sister is a doctor in Charlevoix.”

His children, daughter Riley, 12, and sons Sean, 23, Matt, 21, and Tommy, 19, all grew up helping with the tree farm. Continuing that tradition set forth by his mother, Wendling has supported his own children’s higher education; Sean who recently graduated with an engineering degree, Matt who is pursuing pre-med, Tommy who is currently studying for a business degree, and for 12-year-old Riley, that still remains to be seen.

“Who knows what Riley will do?” he says. “Probably just boss me around.”

Wendling’s son Matt says working on a tree farm was a unique way to grow up and helped him and his family maintain a close relationship.

Mike Wendling's children and their friends help out during opening day at Centennial Pines Tree Farm.

“Growing up, you got to learn to work hard before you knew it was working hard,” he says. “It was a great time, I've really enjoyed it and it's kept our family pretty close together. We always know that after Thanksgiving, we're out here on Black Friday morning and then we have our cousins come down sometimes. Everybody's always together, so it's a great business to have that keeps us all close as a family.”

“It's so cool to have them all here and I hope they do that for a long time,” Wendling says. “They'll never make money here, no generation has ever made significant money here, but we have customers that come back here for like 20 years and I can remember when their kids were little. So it's just a neat business to own and it’s fun.”

Originally, Centennial Pines Tree Farm only grew pine and spruce trees.

“People like spruce because they're stiff and they hold ornaments really well, but they're picky,” Wendling says. “So if you don't have children and you do have pets, spruce are really good because the pets won't go near them.”

Today, the tree farm offers between 5-7 varieties which now includes fir trees which Wendling says are currently the most popular at the tree farm.

“People like firs because they have really good needle retention, they're soft, and they look kind of like a spruce,” he says. “People who like pines, they have good needle retention, but they are also bushier so they have a different look to them.”

Every tree at Centennial Pines Tree Farm is $65, regardless of the size. The all-inclusive price includes additional services like tree shaking, drilling, and wrapping, as well as hayrides and saws to cut down the tree.

“I really want it to be one price,” Wendling says. “People can come in for $65 whether their family has 25 people in it or it's got one person in it … You can walk in here and do everything that there is to do.”

The Eifert family pose for a photo at Centennial Pines Tree Farm after cutting down their Christmas tree.

Wendling says while the tree farm is a fun business, it is labor intensive and requires a lot of maintenance throughout the year.

“There are so many things that happen during the summer,” he says. “People think you just put the tree in the ground and come back in 10 years and cut it down, but we trim every tree which takes a lot of time because there are probably 30,000 trees here.”

Though it’s been a lot of work, Wendling says it’s been fulfilling and hopes to see another generation — or several — of his family continuing the tree farm.

“It would be neat to see my grandkids here — and my great-grandkids hopefully — doing this and enjoying it,” he says. “It’s something that my family worked really hard to keep at this level, looking nice, the buildings in shape, planting trees, and doing the work.”

But there’s no pressure if his children or other family members choose another path.

“Whoever wants to do it can do it, and if they don't want to, then we'll just rent the land,” Wendling says. “I'm never going to sell the land. These 120 acres will be in my family throughout my life and then if the next generation does something different, then they do.”

To learn more about current offerings at Centennial Pines Tree Farm or to plan a visit, go to facebook.com/CentennialPines.

Read more articles by Liz Fredendall.

Liz Fredendall is a photojournalist and communications professional with nonprofit experience. In addition to her work with The Keel, Liz manages communications for the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, runs her own photography business, and writes for several publications. During her free time, Liz enjoys reading and exploring the Blue Water Area with her husband Erick and their corgi, Nori. Contact Liz at editor@thekeelph.com or follow her on Instagram @lizfredendallphoto.