By SUSAN THACKER
Trees are more than objects of beauty and shade — they are the guardians of childhood games and the archivists of family history. When the Great Bend Tree Board asked people to submit photos of Barton County trees, the submissions often included a bit of history. Two categories in the October “Tree or Tree Photography Contest” required some narrative; winning the prize for “family tree” or “most historical significance” required some explanation.
Arleen Whittaker, winner of the tree with the most historical significance, wrote the following essay about the tree that graces her front yard:
By Arleen Whittaker
My husband and I were married in 1955, moved to Great Bend in 1956, and built a house and moved into it in 1962. We had an FHS loan which required two trees be planted on the property. We were short on funds, so my husband and father went to the river or somewhere unknown to me and dug up two trees that met the size requirements and planted them in the yard and met the requirements for the loan.
The trees did take root and grew, but several years later, we had a huge wind storm and it blew the tree in the front yard completely to the ground. My husband was determined to save the tree, so he attached guide lines and pulled the tree to upright position with his pickup. He must have mowed around those lines for years, but finally the tree was able to stand on its own. The tree is now 82 inches (6 feet 10 inches) around and the only evidence of its trauma is the raised area where it was uprooted.
Our two daughters, Sheryl and Michelle, had that tree in our yard for all of their lives, so it is part of our family’s history.
Now, 52 years later, the tree is still standing as a tribute to a man’s ingenuity to save that tree. My husband, Bob Whittaker, passed away over three years ago, but that tree remains strong and healthy with huge limbs that reach to the heavens where its savior lives.
Family Tree winner Gaylene Stout, Hoisington, submitted photos of a maple tree planted in 1960 by her grandparents, Francis and Lucille Stout. Her entry was on behalf of Francis Stout, who said:
“The seedling or twig was no more bigger round than a pencil when it was planted. They actually planted two of these trees, one on each side of the sidewalk. One took off growing and the other didn’t survive. It measures 12 feet 7 inches around.
“My grandpa was killed in an auto accident and grandma raised their three kids. They grew up and moved on with their lives and started their own families. Grandma passed away in 1988 to cancer, so the kids sold the house in 1991.
“With only two previous owners, the tree remains standing tall in the front yard. This year the house was for sale and I (Francis Stout) purchased it. Now it is back in the family. The tree has grown a lot since we had left and still gives great shade. Our families have a lot of great memories here growing up and now we will continue to make more memories.”
Darcy and Nick Jacobs planted a Pin Oak tree “10 years or so ago” at their Barton Hills home. Darcy wrote, “I paid $1.75 for it at Walmart. I just couldn’t think about letting it die without least trying to save it. So I purchased it and brought it home hoping and praying it would make it. My husband had his doubts!
“Now she stands over 30 feet tall and is such a stunning site all year long! We enjoy her wonderful shade and the beautiful fall colors of her leaves in the fall! We started finding acorns the last couple of years. The squirrels thoroughly enjoy them.
“It’s just been truly amazing to see a small almost dead stick of a tree grow into this truly beautiful living thriving tree as it is today! So happy I spent that $1.75 those many years ago!”
Paul and Susie Batchman, who won the prize for largest tree, also wrote a few sentences about their cottonwood tree on the west edge of the Ellinwood City Limits.
“Our property is on the Santa Fe Trail and about 320 yards from the Arkansas River. Local historians have told us that the travelers along the Santa Fe Trail camped here as it was close to the water. We have been told that travelers planted trees as markers along the trail. We believe this tree was probably planted by the Santa Fe Trail travelers many, many years ago.”
See page B1 of today’s Great Bend Tribune for all of the winning tree photos.