Tree Trust deeply rooted; Unexpected invitation began Southgate’s ‘green revolution’ over 20 years ago

Published 8:24 am Friday, September 15, 2017

A new sign was recently installed at Southgate Elementary School, marking the school’s 1995 Tree Trust Project.

It is a fairly modest sign — but the impact it represented was pretty big.

Fact is, though, the Tree Trust initiative wasn’t even supposed to come to Austin.

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The school’s principal in 1995 was Don Fox. Today, he is on the Austin School Board. He just happened to be attending an education meeting in Minneapolis — he doesn’t recall its purpose today — but it was there he struck up a conversation with a member of the Tree Trust, a non-profit organization whose overall aim was to provide practical expertise and environmental knowledge about the importance of trees and plants.

“I thought it sounded like something we should have,” Fox said. “I thought the science of it” was good for the students.

There was a hitch, though: The Tree Trust generally did not travel outside the Twin Cities metro area.

“The woman I talked to was traveling to Iowa (in the next few days) — so I said, “Well, why don’t you just stop by Austin and take a look; it’s not that far out of your way,” Fox said.

That’s all it took. Trust officials contacted Fox to tell him they would provide an adviser to the school’s “Green Team,” composed of staff members about landscaping and creating natural habitats on school grounds. A blueprint design was created and plans were made. Funding in the first year came from the Trust; after that, grants were sought when work continued or additions to the grounds were sought.

Students, staff and parents all worked to beautify the grounds on school days and on Saturdays; almost all of the trees on the west, south and east sides of the school property were planted as part of the initiative. Shrubbery was also planted and, eventually, butterfly and flower gardens, a prairie restoration project and a tree nursery were added. Memorial plaques were also laid, honoring educators, students and veterans.

Then-fourth grade teacher Bonnie Ripple recalled the “weed, water, plant and chip” mantra of the early work, and how dedicated students, parents and staff were to keep the project moving forward.

“Students and their parents would bring rakes and shovels,” from their homes to work, recalled former fifth grade teacher Dee Graber.

Their efforts were supported by the community. The city park and recreation department helped water during the summers. Stivers Nursery and Landscaping donated wood chips every year, said Fox. Those were just few examples.

As importantly, he said, an awareness seemed to spread in the community, with other schools creating their own plantings and green teams.

“You know, I don’t think we had one instance of vandalism (at Southgate),” Graber said. “I really think because of this, everyone had  ownership of the building, of the projects.”

“I think everyone became much more aware (of the environment),” said Fox. “I really do.”

Southgate Green Team

R. Asleson, Mary Baier, Bob Bednar, Bob Bertilson, Debbie Binder, Denny Blaser,V. Cambern, Val Cipra, Sherry Delhanty, Lisa Deyo, Terry Duellman, Nikki Edwin, Bonnie Erickson, Sandy Folk, Dee Graber, Kenny Hagen, Judy Hagmann, Janelle Hahn, B. Hanson, Barb Heiny, Jim Hewitt, Marilyn Hillman, Linda Hoag, Barb Kime, Bill Kinney, Jim Klapperich, Dorothy Krob, Wendy Larson, Gary Loecher, Jackie Lyons, Becky Martinson, Deb Mickelsen, M. Momsen, Mary Morgan, Patty Munk. Connie Nelson, Phyllis Oldenburg, Marilyn Oswald, Lila Overby, Laura Paddock. Kimberly Peterson, Kathy Ramseth, Sue Rasch, Rebecca Rassel, Patty Rayman, Dorran Rickert, Bonnie Ripple, Mike Rogers, Diana Ross, Wayne Rustad, Sue Ruzek, Vicki Ryan, Marilyn Sabin, Steve Sanford, C. Schneider, Ann Sundal, Barb Tomlinson, Lynette Usgaard, Robert Watson, Carol Whalen and Marsha Wolfgram.