Group plants more trees in local park

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 27, 2002

There were the usual jokes and friendly insults, when 19 spruce trees were planted in Austin Community Park this week.

What else could one expect, when Spruce Up Austin, Inc. volunteers get together?

Even the weather seemed perfect for the occasion: a sudden rain shower from darkening skies followed by a burst of brilliant sunshine.

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The symbolism on the SUA, Inc. members could not be lost: rain and sunshine, the necessary ingredients for anything to grow.

The trees honored 19 past and present SUA, Inc. board members.

They also signaled the city's commitment to making the expanded Austin Community Park a recreational asset to all.

"When Spruce Up Austin started in 1990," explained Mike Ruzek, the organization's former long-time president and current project coordinator, "We thought it was important to create a visual impact on the city. The 100 Trees For Hormel project did that."

The combination of being able to attract "good volunteers," as Ruzek calls them with creative ideas like the tree planting to honor Hormel Foods Corporation's centennial enables to SUA, Inc. to attract financial support for their projects.

That SUA, Inc. board members have remained loyal to the organization for so many years says something else. "It says something about the nature of the work we do," Ruzek said. "People want to be a part of it."

Ruzek mentioned Millie Kane, an 11-year veteran board member until her illness and death, as one example.

"Millie was active into her 70s doing Spruce Up work," Ruzek said. "We have others like her. Jack Sherman, for instance. These are people who believe in the things we do."

The 19 spruce trees planted along the walkways in Austin Community Park near the Veterans Pavilion honor nine past board members with five years or more of service: Millie Kane, 11 years; Pat Schmid, 11 years; Norm Hecimovich, 9 years; Jerry McCarthy, 9 years; Knowles Dougherty, 7 years; Mark Hecimovich, 5 years; Dave McConnell, 8 years; Joyce Mlinar, 9 years; Larry Haugen, 6 years.

Also, the tree plantings honor 10 current board members with five or more years of service: Jerry Adwell, 5 years; Lee Bonorden, 12 years; Craig Hoium, 7 years; Dennis Maschka, 13 years; Bonnie Mogen, 7 years; Bonnie Rietz, 13 years;

Gretchen Ramlo, 8 years; Mike Ruzek, 13 years; Jack Sherman, 12 years; and Darlene Thaisen, 8 years.

According to Ruzek, the nine former board members have a combined 75 years of volunteer service to the organization and the 10 current members have a combined 11 years.

"That's a total of 186 years and that averages out to about 10 years per person," Ruzek said. "That's an amazing record for volunteer service."

Also honored Wednesday night were Bill Kinney and the Austin High School wrestling program's participants. Kinney, the head coach, and his wrestlers have become regular volunteers for SUA, Inc. projects.

Two of the student-athletes, seniors Josh Kestner and Josh Solberg assisted in the latest tree-plantings.

Solberg has been helping the organization since he was in the seventh grade. "It makes you feel good to help the community this way," Solberg said. "When I see some of the trees we planted I can say 'I helped plant those trees' and that's a good feeling."

Kestner agreed with his wrestling teammate and also said

he enjoys the satisfaction of doing "something different" in his life.

Also happy the volunteers all enjoy doing something different in their lives by planting trees was Maschka, executive director of the Austin Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department. and a long-time SUA, Inc. board member and volunteer.

Surveying the Austin Community Park vista of Skinner's Hill and a pond in the background, recreation trails in all director ions, a bandshell and the Veterans Pavilion (formerly St. Paul Lutheran Church), Maschka admitted, "It's one of the best things to happen in the city."

According to Maschka, the improvements to Austin Community Park and the addition of the Veterans Pavilion have generated a greater awareness for all the park has to offer visitors as well as protecting the environment.

"I think because of Spruce Up Austin the city is transplanting by hand eight trees from Honor Guards Park to new locations and six other trees from Riverside Arena to new locations," Maschka said.

"Before Spruce Up came along, we probably would have just uprooted those trees and got rid of them. Now, we understand how valuable they are."

Maschka said the 19 trees, actually the third tree-planting project by SUA, Inc. at Austin Community Park, will be a permanent asset to the area that has become the second-largest city park of its kind. Only Todd Park is larger.

"We're going to see a large piece of play equipment installed in the park next year and we're fortunate to have the addition of the trees this fall. Coupled with the Veterans Pavilion and you have a tremendous asset to our recreational options in Austin," he said.

Already the popular Veterans Pavilion has hosted more than a half-dozen private family events in its first season. Weddings, family reunions and a Hispanic "coming-out" party for a young woman have been among the events to be held

inside the former Lutheran church.

"And," Maschka said, "now we have more trees. Who could ask for anything more in a city park?"

Who, indeed?

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at