Few students today likely know of the Oklahoma City bombing, in which explosives planted by an anti-government militant 22 years ago killed 168 people and destroyed a federal building and most everything surrounding it.
The Tree Commission of Wauseon wants to kindle students’ knowledge of the event with a permanent, living remembrance.
In August, the commission received a seedling from an American Elm tree that was located across from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building a bomb destroyed in Oklahoma City, Okla. Though damaged by the blast, the tree ultimately survived and became a symbol of hope across the nation. Since then, seedlings from the tree have been requested through the Oklahoma National Memorial by numerous organizations wanting to memorialize the bombing victims.
Tree Commission President Jim Spiess first heard of the seedling program while attending a Department of Natural Resources workshop. “We thought it was a nice idea and pursued it,” he said.
Due to the large demand, the commission received its seedling in August, a full three years after it was requested. It has been planted behind Wauseon’s Public Works Department until it gains more height and strength.
Spiess said in a few years the commission wants to replant the elm tree at Wauseon Middle School during an Arbor Day celebration. He said the commission has planted trees in the past for historical purposes.
“It’s such an important item,” he said. “We just thought it would be a nice match-up with the school. Good things are worth waiting for.”
The bombing occurred April 19, 1995, when explosives were detonated from a truck parked outside the federal building. In addition to those killed, hundreds of other people were injured. The bomber, an ex-Army member named Timothy McVeigh, was executed for the crime in 2001.
A promontory wall now circles the original 90-year-old elm tree at the site. The wall is inscribed with: “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.”
Mark Bays of the Oklahoma Forestry Services assists the Oklahoma National Memorial in distributing the seedlings. Each year since 1996, seeds are retrieved from the tree and cultivated free by a private nursery. They are then distributed at an annual remembrance ceremony for the bombing victims.
“They just want to do what they can to help, and they’ve never asked for any money in return,” Bays said of the nursery.
Thousands of seedlings have either been handed out or mailed to various organizations in the country requesting them. They have traveled as far as Canada.
Bay said the tree, located across the street from where the federal building once stood, suffered serious injury during the explosion. Pieces of glass and building material were found embedded in the trunk, which also was damaged by cars the blast ignited and pushed into the tree.
“It became this iconic tree of hope and symbolism,” Bays said. “The first thing we wanted to make sure of was that the legacy of the tree would be around. We want the seeds to go out and send that tree’s message of hope to others who may be experiencing their own tragedy.”
Kim Bowles, Fulton Soil and Water Conservation District administrator and a member of the Tree Commission, arranged to have the seedling shipped to Wauseon. She said thousands of survivor trees taken from the original have been planted in Oklahoma and throughout the country.
“I think it was just the idea of remembering what had happened in Oklahoma City. We could provide a history lesson to the children about it,” she said.
The Oklahoma National Memorial is committed to distributing the seeds for as long as it can, Bays said. “The seedlings themselves are offspring, so they’re like the children of the tree itself,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.