The Patton house on Swiss is brimming with the colors of fall.
Orange and yellow pumpkins are scattered throughout the entryway and living room, and a cluster of half a dozen flower arrangements sits on the kitchen floor near the refrigerator.
Fall and Christmas are busy seasons for longtime Lakewood couple Jeff and Yvette Patton, and the evidence is everywhere.
If you’ve been around East Dallas for long, there’s a good chance you know the Pattons — or at least know of them.
Jeff is a Lakewood native and 1971 Woodrow Wilson graduate. From Thanksgiving until Christmas, you can find Jeff in the big white and blue tent at Mockingbird and Abrams, selling Christmas trees.
Although Patton’s Christmas Trees has hopscotched around the neighborhood several times, Jeff has been selling trees to East Dallas for 40 years this year. With the help of his family, he hopes to keep going for at least 20 more.
Buying a tree from Patton’s is a family tradition for many neighbors.
“We see exactly the same people every year,” Jeff says. “They come, and it’s the same people at the same time, and they buy the same tree. It’s more like clockwork than a clock itself.”
Patton’s delivers and installs pre-lit trees to neighbors’ homes. They can also decorate the trees and light homes or businesses and then pick up the trees after the holiday season.
Although many people pick up trees at home-improvement or grocery stores, Jeff says there is plenty of business to go around, and he’s busier than ever.
“The people who go to Home Depot would not go to my place, and the people who go to my place wouldn’t go to Home Depot,” he says.
He claims quality is the difference.
“People who want a perfect tree all the way around come to my lot,” he says. “If they can live with a mediocre tree, they go to Home Depot.”
And in the perfect matrimony with Jeff’s Christmas tree business is Yvette’s decorating business, which is busiest during the holidays. It’s also the reason why the Pattons’ home is so festive.
This holiday season is significant for the couple in another way: It’s their 20th wedding anniversary. They were married on Christmas Day in 1994.
It was actually Christmas that brought the couple together years ago.
Yvette was barely out of high school and working as a decorator at Bryan Tower in Downtown when Jeff came in and found her boss upset about an ugly Christmas tree. He offered to provide a prettier tree. He walked over to the counter, and that’s where he met the young Yvette for the first time.
They became friends, and although it took them a while to reach the altar, they eventually married. Jeff brought two kids into the marriage, John and Emily, and Yvette brought one, Preston. Together they had another, Jeffrey Jr.
Although their combined services make them a hot commodity during the holidays, the Lakewood couple is equally important during the rest of the year.
Both have a heart for helping people and, together or individually, are involved in several local organizations.
To name a couple, Yvette is involved in Bill Glass Prison Ministries, and both of them were involved in Baptist Church Builders of Texas for nine years.
Jeff has been attending Wilshire Baptist Church in Lakewood for as long as he can remember, and over the years both have been very involved in its ministry, serving as Stephen Ministers and Sunday-school teachers.
Jeff’s family joined the Lakewood Country Club in 1959, and he even lives in the same house on Swiss that he grew up in, which he recently bought from his parents.
Jeff somewhat accidentally became the poster child for integration in East Dallas in the late ’60s and early ’70s. He’s been featured in several media outlets, including Advocate, over the years regarding his friendship with a black student, John Paul McCrumbly.
In 1966, J.L. Long Middle School, which was at the time an eighth- and ninth-grade junior high, began welcoming black students, including McCrumbly, who grew up in a historically black neighborhood to the south of the school that was integrated into Woodrow’s boundaries during that time.
Jeff, whose father was a prominent doctor in East Dallas, befriended McCrumbly, the kid the school placed in all Jeff’s classes and on the football team.
Although in retrospect we recognize the significance of the friendship, at the time the boys were merely friends and didn’t think much of it.
“My parents raised me to believe that we’re all God’s children,” Jeff explains. “Nothing makes you any better than anybody else. Anywhere I went, he went with me. Me and John Paul, we integrated Lakewood.”
Years later, Jeff and McCrumbly are still friends.
When not slammed with business, Yvette spends time working with the Grief and Loss Center of North Texas, an East Dallas nonprofit.
The Pattons’ son Preston died in January 2011 at age 21, and hundreds of East Dallas neighbors reached out to the couple, offering comfort and support. Yvette’s friend Laurie Taylor, who is the executive director of the Grief and Loss Center, was instrumental in helping guide her through her grief.
“When our son passed away, Laurie came,” Yvette says. “We had probably 300 people here all the time for a week. It was unbelievable. Laurie showed up, probably the day after he died, and she helped me write his obituary and everything. She came every day for a week.
“I honestly do not know what I would have done without her,” Yvette says, smiling through tears.
The Grief and Loss Center had barely begun through Wilshire Baptist Church when Preston died. During those early years, Taylor took Yvette under her wing, and Yvette dug in with helping the center, decorating the office and helping raise funds. She was instrumental in helping launch the board of directors.
Yvette also volunteers with her dad with the Bill Glass Prison Ministries. Preston also signed up to volunteer, but he died before he could go, so Jeff volunteered to take his place.
While at the prison, Jeff met a blind inmate who had been eligible for parole for a year and a half. The man had no family, and it took $50 to get into a halfway house.
“I told him, if you’re telling me the truth, pack your bags, because you’re going home next week,” Jeff recalls. “He stayed in our back apartment for two years and then got married. He’s living the life.”
He still comes over once a week to walk the Pattons’ dog, Buddy.
“Nobody can walk our dog, but he worked with him. He and Buddy became like this,” Yvette says, twisting her fingers to demonstrate their closeness.
The Pattons raised their children in much the same way, teaching them to always take up for the underdogs.
Yvette sums up their philosophy best:
“You never know what you do in your life that’s going to change other people’s lives,” she says, “or change the course of your life.”
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.