Pete Kobe went to college to become a football coach, but God had other plans.
For more than five decades the Fort Wayne resident has used music rather than a pigskin to touch and change lives.
As founder of Blackhawk Ministries' iconic “Living Christmas Tree” and architect of its revival, Kobe wears many hats — including annual garage sale organizer.
The sale is scheduled for Sept. 21-22, in the parking lot of the former Scott's Food & Pharmacy store at Dupont and Coldwater roads. It will feature 50 tables of merchandise, says Kobe, and good-quality furniture, couches, TV stands, coffee tables and bookcases.
Funds raised through the sale keep the cost of “Living Christmas Tree” tickets more affordable, says Patti Murzyn, an organization member. “Pete ... helps with picking up items for the garage sale and stores them in his garage and numerous storage sheds around the city.”
The “Living Christmas Tree” will be presented at North Park Community Church on Dec. 1-2.
Sharing his faith
Kobe, a Michigan native and pastor's son, began directing choirs while in high school.
“I became a believer in Jesus Christ and found biblical truths to be true for me and my family,” he recalls. “I wanted to share my faith through music.”
Kobe earned music degrees from Taylor and Ball State universities and taught in Indiana public schools before moving to California to teach on the college level.
“While teaching college music courses, I also enjoyed traveling with various vocal music ensembles,” he recalls. “While there was never a desire to be a preacher, I did have a deep challenge to present my Christian faith through music. The quest to share my faith has been a major part of my entire career.”
The first “Tree”
While in California, Kobe and his wife, Carol, saw a living Christmas tree for the first time. A return to Indiana for a position at Blackhawk Baptist Church (now Blackhawk Ministries) gave them an opportunity to stage the first “Living Christmas Tree” performance here.
“I began the 'Tree' in 1977, designing (it) with the help of local engineers and Bentz Metal,” says Kobe. “I wanted to present good-quality music with people who love to sing and remind the crowds that a savior — a personal savior, the Messiah — was born.
“The appeal for me was the unique way in which the Christmas story was presented,” he continues. “The lighting effects, the drama — all contribute to a spectacular presentation.”
The “Living Christmas Tree” continued uninterrupted for 25 years, even when Kobe left to accept a position as minister of music at North Park Community Church. The tradition ended early in the last decade.
In 2007, the “Living Christmas Tree” was reborn when Kobe purchased the tree and formed the non-profit LCT Foundation.
“I love to lead large choirs,” Kobe admits, “and choirs in churches are fast being eliminated. I include singers from the community — church musicians — because I want the singers to believe in what they are singing and not just perform.”
The tree, requiring five days to assemble, is 25 feet wide at its base and rises about 25 feet high. It contains 10 tiers — each one about 2 feet higher than the previous one — allowing singers from 23 area churches to stand in the tree while performing.
Artificial greenery, hundreds of lights and special pre-programmed lighting bathe the tree in a soft glow.
“Carol comes up with the decorating theme,” says Murzyn. “Unfortunately, many believe that if they saw the concert six years ago, there is nothing more to see. That couldn't be further from the truth! Every year the scenery changes, and so does the music.”
This year's theme is “The Hope of Christmas” and includes traditional and contemporary music, children, soloists, ensembles, interpretive ballet, drama and narration. The South Side Opportunity Services will benefit from the proceeds.
“Many of the songs describe Christ's coming and the hope he provides for the hopeless — those who have physical ailments, loss of job (or) loved one,” says Kobe. “Jesus, though born many years ago, is the savior of the world.
“Combining this message with glorious music encourages me ... that people will hear, believe and experience that transformation that Jesus came make in their lives,” Kobe adds. “He is the hope of the world.”