Last updated: May 11, 2022

This is a story of a tree.

An extraordinary tree whose seed was planted more than 80 years ago in Passaic, N.J., then sprouted in the glorious sunshine of Florida and finally took root in the nourishing heartland of Kansas.

This is the story of a tree - The ArtisTree.

The ArtisTree name wouldn't be known for more than 8 decades, but the idea was planted in a garden of children in Passaic in the early 1920s.

The garden was a kindergarten in the home of Florence Rupp. Jean Elizabeth, Florence's daughter, was among the children who blossomed in this unique setting, where dance and the arts paved the path for a lifetime of enriched education.

That garden path eventually wound across the river into culturally rich New York City. Florence delighted in the smorgasbord of arts the city dished up for her daughter. It was there she found Viola Austin, who firmly planted the love of dance in a young Jean Elizabeth's heart.

Jean Elizabeth's embrace of dance paralleled the lives of budding ballerinas who flocked to New York City to study under the master, George Balanchine. He, like Florence Rupp, envisioned the perfect dance partners – the arts and education.

Ballet wasn't all that was blooming in New York City. Jazz was taking root on Broadway, giving new sprouts their swing – and their wings.

Balanchine's school blossomed into an educational and cultural center – the famous Lincoln Center in the very heart of New York City. Here, ballerinas established an artistic excellence that has flourished for decades.

The explosion of song and dance in New York City was not lost on young Jean Elizabeth. She had grown into a lovely dancer and traveled the path wisely paved by her mother to become a kindergarten teacher. But the winds were stirring, and they soon carried Jean Elizabeth to the shores of southern Florida. There she made a home for her husband and three children. ArtisTree was still a nameless idea, but it was beginning to sprout in the Florida sunshine.

Florida, with its Cuban influence and a bounty of artists who fled the harsh New York winters, served as a tropical paradise for Jean Elizabeth and her brood. A combination of fun and fancy, brilliant colors and ceaseless sun. Summertime, and the living was sweet and easy.

Unknowingly, ArtisTree's seed sprouted in the sandy soil of Florida's beaches, where Jean's oldest child, Elizabeth, played – and often fought her mother's love for dance. Love won. And the prevailing winds curiously blew westward, carrying young Elizabeth and her husband to the center of Kansas. The change was startling, yet hopefully embracing. Blue ocean waves faded into golden wheat fields that gently whispered their welcome.

Elizabeth left her Florida paradise with just a pair of dice – a prop she and her lifelong friend folded into a dance number in their younger – much, much younger – years. The dicey duo has dusted off the dice, and tonight you're in for a rare treat. I give you the fabulous, the funny and the only – thank goodness – Sunshine Shufflers.

One-half of the Sunshine Shufflers planted herself in Hutchinson and found she was forever drawn to the arts and dance, two loves handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter. ArtisTree, an idea whose seed was sown in New Jersey and sprouted in the Florida sun, put down roots in Hutchinson, the most unlikely of places.

Here, the idea outgrew home and rented buildings, finally finding its place in downtown's heart. There, it is nourished by a neighborhood awash in heritage, culture and the arts. And each year when this extraordinary tree is tapped, it pours out the most amazing wave of talent, from budding artists to polished ballerinas. You have already enjoyed some of this year's bounty. Now, enjoy the rest...