In Hallowed Boughs

Jesse Owens and his US Olympic Track Teammates hold the four (4) English Oak seedlings he was presented at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. (Photo: Associated Press)

“One of my great pleasures in working with trees is being able to see and work with trees that were planted and/or cared for by my father and some even by my grandfather. And, to be able to point out these trees with pride to my family. Trees are a marvelous gift from God that connect one generation to those that precede and succeed it. In this manner, the work of my ancestors has been passed along for me to enjoy and likewise, I pass along for my children and future generations.”

I spoke these words in 2001 during the eulogy I delivered at my mother’s memorial service.  They came to mind again as I read a recent article in the Sun Messenger (Thursday November 11, 2010) about a display on the “Nazi Olympics” at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood.  (Click Here to Read Sun Messenger Article.)

One cannot help but be emotionally shaken by the hatred and cruelty of the murderous Nazi regime, and by the indifference and inaction by so many others.

There was considerable movement afoot in the US to boycott the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  Jeremiah Mahoney, president of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), publicly supported a boycott, believing that Nazi ideology, based on racial inequality, was the direct opposite of the Olympic code, and warning, “… for America to participate in the Olympics in Germany means giving American moral and financial support to the Nazi regime, which is opposed to all that Americans hold dearest.

But Jesse Owens and other African – American track stars favored participating in the Olympics because they felt that their victories would serve to discredit Hitler’s Nazi theory of Aryan supremacy.  Realize that in the 1930’s blacks suffered discrimination in most areas of American life.  Jim Crow laws barred them from many jobs and from entering public places such as restaurants and hotels.  And, consider that black athletes were barred from professional baseball until 1947, professional football until 1946, professional basketball until 1950, and professional golf until 1961!

Germany presented Olympic gold medalists with English Oak tree seedlings in recognition of their achievement.  Jesse Owens was presented four Olympic Oak Trees, one for each of the four gold medals he garnered.  Two of Jesse Owens’ Olympic Oak Trees continue growing today, one on the campus of the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio and the other by the track where Jesse practiced for the ’36 Olympics, at James Ford Rhodes High School in my hometown of Cleveland.

In 2003, Forest City Tree Protection, along with another local arborist, donated pro bono tree care services for the magnificent 43” diameter English oak tree at James Ford Rhodes High School.  The tree is a living testament to the will and determination of a true American hero, Jesse Owens, who, along with his fellow African-American athletes, repudiated Nazi racial theories of Aryan supremacy with their victories.

Lauren Lanphear (left) with Mr. Terrence Owens, track coach at James Ford Rhodes High School. Mr. Owens is a cousin of Jesse Owens. The Cleveland Public Schools hold an annual Jesse Owens Invitational Track Meet at the athletic complex adjacent to the courtyard where the tree grows.

Forest City Tree crews pruned and cabled the hallowed boughs of this grand tree and assisted Mark Hoenigman of Busy Bee Tree Service in providing much needed root therapy treatments.  Crews took great care while pruning, cabling, and performing root therapy treatments to ensure that hoses, equipment, and cuttings did not harm or damage the appearance and shape of the tree.  Branches were carefully removed and disposed. Crews followed exacting safety standards, and stayed watchful for situations potentially harmful to the tree.  Given the very public nature of the tree and its close proximity to people, structures, and vehicles a good deal of planning and coordination was required ahead of time.  During the course of the work itself, great care had to be taken to ensure the safety of people and protection of structures.  We also involved administrators, teachers, and students in the process so as to build and uplift their appreciation of the tree and its future care.

The Jesse Owens Olympic Oak Tree

The Tree Care Industry Association recognized Forest City Tree Protection with an Award of Excellence in 2003 for its efforts to preserve and protect the Jesse Owens Olympic Oak Tree.

What a privilege it was to work on and provide care for such an incredible tree.  A tree that represents so much for so very many and which connects us and future generations with a crucial part of our history and heritage.  But, truth is, everyday we work on or amidst the hallowed boughs of that which, as the poet Joyce Kilmer reminds us, “only God can make.”

Trees ARE a marvelous gift from God that connect one generation to those that precede and succeed it. The work of my ancestors has been passed along for our generation to enjoy and likewise, we pass along for our children and future generations.  This task with which we’ve been entrusted is indeed a sacred trust.  We treat it with the respect and integrity it deserves and, hold it dearly!

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    lslfctp said,

    The only source I can find is “Associated Press” for which the phone should be credited.


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