The little tree in Carroll Park was sad-looking. Scrawny. Brittle, bare branches; no leaves. The unnaturally hot summer was dehydrating and its
awkward location north of the recreation building by the path meant it was often missed on the park district watering cycle. Without immediate care, it surely would die.
But thanks to the tender, loving care of Lynne Zillman’s second grade class at Oak Park’s Lincoln School, the little tree has a good chance of a full recovery. Zillman’s class has adopted the tree and taken care of it since the school year started. They even decorated it for the holidays.
“The children have really become invested in the project,” says Zillman. “In the late summer they watered with pails of water at recess, weeded around the tree, and asked kids not to play too close to it because some of the branches were getting broken.” One of the kids even put a band-aid on a small, cracked limb, she recalls.
The little tree was planted by the Memorial Tree program through the Park District of Oak Park, in memory of Bud Corey, longtime park district employee and Oak Park-River Forest philanthropist. Corey actually started and ran the Memorial Tree program after he officially retired from the department.
Zillman got the idea to adopt a tree from classes she took this summer at Brookfield Zoo.
“This is a great way to help teach kids to care for the environment and to understand the importance of trees,” comments Mike Grandy, superintendent of buildings and grounds for the park district.
Zillman and her class decided to pick two trees in Carroll Park, adjacent to Lincoln’s playground. One is a flowering pear that the kids also decorated, in the style of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” a song they performed at the school’s annual holiday sing. They actually serenaded the tree before the concert, festooning it with a wooden partridge and several imitation pear ornaments.
The other tree is the little Corey tree, chosen because student Emma Bergholz and her family knew Bud. “Some of the children say they adopted the Corey tree because it’s small, like them, compared to the larger trees surrounding it,” explains Zillman.
The little tree has been thriving under their care. The class worked with Grandy to add mulch, and “when it first snowed, they piled up snow around the trunk so that when it melts, the tree will get more water,” says Zillman.
Grandy feels it’s particularly fitting that the Corey tree receive so much love and attention. “Oak Park has benefited handsomely from Bud Corey and his wife,” says Grandy. “They’ve given oodles and oodles of their time and energy.” Corey, who served as Carroll’s director among his many park district positions, retired in 2002.
This month, the class sent a Christmas card to Laura Corey, Bud’s widow. “They sent me a photo of Bud’s tree decorated for Christmas with tiny ornaments and surrounded with some of the classmates,”says Corey, with visible delight. “They also sent me several needles from Bud’s tree.”
Laura has taken over her late-husband’s volunteer position running the Memorial Tree program. “The children wrote that they’re planning to plant tulips around the base of the tree this spring,” she says. “Bud would have loved the card and the whole story of the Lincoln students caring for his little tree. This represents exactly what he and I hope the memorial program will do and so much more.”