A Walking, Talking Tannenbaum

Marilyn Rau of Neier has “branched out” since retiring.

Rau, who stopped working for the family’s rock drilling and blasting business, a year ago, now fills much of her time helping others with the annual Tannenbaum Auction in Washington.

“I’m one of the trees,” she said.

The auction raises money for the Emmaus Homes, which is a Marthasville facility for developmentally disabled adults. Last year the proceeds from the Tannenbaum Auction helped buy three new vans for the home.

Although Rau is not an extroverted person, she is not shy about her support for the Tannenbaum Auction.

You may see her dressed up as a Christmas tree spreading the word about the event and selling tickets.

This year the Tannenbaum Auction will be Nov. 21, and at least 500 are expected to attend. Now in its fifth year, the event has grown so much that it will be held at N-Sports Rec center to provide more space.

Rau is one of 11 “walking and talking” trees, and they attend community events such as craft fairs, Oktoberfest in Hermann or Sunset on the Riverfront in Washington.

“Every year the trees look a little bit different,” Rau said. “Each one is different.”

Last year, her tree costume was covered with candy canes and working lights.

“I was replacing batteries like nobody’s business,” she said, adding that this year she is doing away with the lights in favor of “sparkle.”

When Rau and the other “trees” show up in costume they draw a lot of interest from people passing by. She does not always have to initiate the contact with people as they come to her and the other trees.

“Once you start talking to one person it just flows,” she said. “People ask, ‘What are you doing? ”’

At that point she and the other trees tell them about all the good things the Tannenbaum Auction does.

Last year, Rau was at a Washington art fair, and two guys were whispering and looking at her until she asked them what was so funny. One of them asked her if her husband knew what she was up to.

“Everywhere you go you get your picture taken. It’s just fun.”

Rau explains to people what the Tannenbaum Auction is all about and how it helps some of society’s most vulnerable people.

It’s an auction of Christmas items such as fully decorated trees, wreaths, centerpieces topiaries and a class of items called “Can’t Live Without.” All the items that are auctioned off are donated.

“We get a lot of community support,” Rau said. “I think the knowledge of the Tannenbaum Auction is growing, particularly here in Washington.”

Many people hand make the items they donate, Rau said, adding, “There are so many crafty people around here.”

Last year there were around 350 items donated, and there is a silent and oral auction.

“We get a huge crowd,” Rau said, adding that the biggest thing people can do to support the event is buy tickets, which cost $20 in advance and $25 the night of the event.

Those with a ticket get food and drink, which are also donated. Elvis will close the night, and the Emmaus Bell Choir will also perform.

Items at the auction could make great home decorations or gifts for others, Rau noted.

Another fun part about the event is the competition that comes about from different organizations trying to create the best trees. For instance, Rau said there was a black Harley-Davidson Christmas tree trimmed in silver. Another tree last year was covered with ornaments from foreign locales.

A group of art teachers judges the event giving first-place prizes for trees, wreaths and topiaries. Those who win first place are put into the oral auction, and the others will be in the silent auction.


Rau’s husband, Eric, still works for the family business, Ed’s Drilling & Blasting. In the 27 years she worked there, she did everything “but drilling and blasting.”

It’s a third-generation business that her husband took over around 1980. She and her husband both grew up in Washington, and she worked at the business before they got married.

She attended Southwest Missouri State and the University of Missouri at St. Louis where she studied sociology. But she eventually left school for work.

She grew up knowing the value of hard work as her dad owned a service station in Washington and her mom worked at the Deb Shoe Factory. Her mom also worked for Kellwood in New Haven, which made tents and camping equipment.

Now Rau has a large family of her own with six grandchildren — two live in Webb City. They are the children of Rau’s daughter, Emily, and her husband Dan Elwell.

She has one grandchild in Jefferson City, and she is the daughter of Rau’s son Sam and his wife Sarah.

Her son Ben and his wife Mimi have three sons, and they live in St. Charles.

And she has another son, Jared in Kansas City.

Seeing her grandchildren as much as possible is one of her top priorities.

But she is happy a lunch engagement with a friend led to her involvement with the Tannenbaum Auction. Rau said she wanted to donate some time to others and her friend, who was already a volunteer with the Tannenbaum, suggested that she join the group.

This year the proceeds from the event will be used to make a “Face-Lift for Faith House.” The Faith House is a residential facility on the Emmaus Homes Marthasville campus that needs safety improvements. For instance, the entrance to the house has metal stairs, which can be dangerous for the residents during icy conditions. The bathrooms also need to be revamped, and there are holes in the kitchen and dining room floors.

The goal is to raise $35,000 this year compared to the $24,000 that was raised last year.

The developmentally disabled adults at Emmaus truly deserve it, Rau said, adding that she is drawn to help those people.

“There are a couple of groups of people in this world that simply cannot help themselves, and they are one of the two,” Rau said. “The other is young children. If we don’t help them, who will?”