Following a strong example

Published 2:15 pm Saturday, June 12, 2010

Plant one tree and you are a keeper of the trees.

Plant 200,000 trees and you’re a keeper of the trees.

Each act is important to the environment.

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Each act is an expression of faith in the future.

One of the acts transcends all others for all time.

Jay Catherwood Hormel wasn’t just a captain of industry. He took strength from the value of trees with a passion.

Johnny Appleseed planted apple trees.

Jay Hormel planted all trees within his reach.

He was truly Austin’s original keeper of the trees.

To be sure, he didn’t do it alone. No man could do that without the help of others.

The son of the founder of Hormel Foods Corporation and its president and chairman of the board did have the resources, financial and other, to accomplish the amazing feat.

Walk the trails of the J.C. Hormel Nature Center at the east edge of Austin and walk with a fortune measured, not in dollars and cents, but spruce and trees.

Fifteen years ago, Spruce Up Austin, Inc. with the assistance of the Austin Daily Herald published its first Arbor Day tabloid supplement to the daily newspaper. The edition highlighted the contributions of Jay Hormel’s lasting legacy to the environment.

It took 30 years to plant 200,000 trees. Roy Anderson supervised a crew of workers to do the work for Hormel.

The plantings began on the 40-acre Hormel estate (now Gerard of Minnesota). When the estate was densely populated with spruce and trees, Hormel acquired more land to expand the plantings.

Larry Dolphin, naturalist and director of the Nature Center, recalled a March 1940 address from the Hormel archives, when Hormel explained how industry and the environment could co-exist.

“Business does not exist apart from humanity. Business is a vehicle for giving  — a vehicle for giving and getting,” Hormel was quoted as saying.

A cryptic message, perhaps, but it is obvious Hormel believed a successful business depended, in part, on its workers and that getting (i.e., making a profit) should not be devoid of giving back.

What greater gift can thee be than 200,000 trees?

The plantings started in 1926 and continued into the 1950s. Silver poplar, Ohio buckeye and American maple came first. They were Hormel’s favorite species.

Then every other specie native to the Upper Midwest was planted.

Under Anderson’s careful attention, the crews planted more and more trees until an arboretum was created and for a while, the trees became an outdoor laboratory for arborists and foresters.

“Mr. Hormel had a powerful love of trees,” manager Anderson was quoted as saying. An understatement of fact.

According to biographers, each year Anderson would take a plan to Hormel for more plantings and he would review it and give his approval.

Records were kept and every seedling planted dutifully recorded. Jack Pines by the thousands found their way into the record books along with birch, oak and others.

Today, the Nature Center’s Dolphin, remains amazed at the enormity of the plantings. “I think he would be proud of how his plan has worked,” he said.

Proud, indeed.

After Hormel’s death, the estate and its forest of trees passed on to the Hormel Foundation, which eventually turned it over to the city of Austin for a permanent nature preserve for the public.

The Friends of the Nature Center has worked hard to enhance the prized possession of the city, including acquiring more acres of land adjoining the Nature Center property.

Austin will welcome another keeper of the trees: Ann Linnea, author, who wrote “Keepers of the Trees – A Guide to Re-greening North America.”

SUA, Inc. is proud to sponsor a reception to honor the Austin native Monday, June 21, beginning 4:30 p.m. at Austin Public Library. Linnea’s new book is being sold as an SUA, Inc. fund-raising project. The public is invited to attend the June 21 activities.

Now 21 years old, Spruce Up Austin, Inc. is a community betterment organization committed to environmental enhancements on public property. Its motto is “Deeply rooted in Austin’s future.” Lee Bonorden is the organization’s secretary.