Oklahoma Baptist University hosted a tree planting ceremony Tuesday, April 25, in observance of Arbor Day 2017. Members of the campus community planted a seedling of an American elm from the Survivor Tree at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. The tree was planted on the southwest portion of the south lawn of Raley Chapel.
The university planted the Survivor Tree seedling six days after the 22nd anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. On April 19, 1995, a truck-bomb explosion outside the building left 168 people dead and hundreds more injured. In the wake of that blast, a lone American elm, later known as the “Survivor Tree,” continued to grow at the blast site, a testimony to the resiliency of those who survived, those who responded and those who will forever remember that day.
Each year, the facilities and grounds crew at the OKC National Memorial provides hundreds of seeds for the project, growing them in nurseries in Oklahoma. The resulting saplings are distributed each year on the anniversary of the bombing.
The ceremony and tree planting was organized by the Campus Tree Advisory Committee, which was formed to assist OBU in its efforts to become an accredited Arboretum and to be recognized as a Tree Campus USA. Current committee members include Dr. John McWilliams, faculty representative; Tom Terry, community member; Alexa Tininenko, student representative; George Haines, director of facilities management; Berry Nichols, grounds and athletic fields supervisor; Lisa Hair, groundskeeper – gardener; and Stacey Foster, committee secretary.
Billy Benson, pastor of Macomb Baptist Church and lead utility crew worker at OBU, led the opening prayer.
OBU President Dr. David W. Whitlock then reflected on the significance of the day for the campus community.
“When the committee started discussing ideas for celebrating Arbor Day, Lisa Hair suggested we apply for a Memorial Survivor Tree sapling, and I think that was a marvelous idea,” he said. “We remember just over 22 years ago the tragic event that occurred at the Murrah Federal Building, and how the Survivor Tree, that old elm, survived and became a visual representation of the spirit of the city and the state.
“This celebration today is a major step forward in one of our strategic initiatives. In 2009, we established OBU 2020: Mission, Vision and Values. One of the ideas that was outlined in that was establishing OBU as a recognized arboretum. One of the steps toward that is earning recognition by the Arbor Day Society as a Tree Campus USA. We already have at least 131 species of trees and a wide assortment of shrubs and flowerbeds that blanket the campus, and as such, we have much to offer as an arboretum.”
George Haines, director of facilities management, shared comments in behalf of the Campus Tree Advisory Committee, introduced committee members, and spoke about the university’s progress toward arboretum accreditation and recognition as a Tree Campus USA. Tom Terry, vice president for business affairs emeritus and former university archivist, shared the history of Arbor Day.
Lisa Hair, groundskeeper and gardener with OBU facilities management, shared about the Survivor Tree seedling.
“I have wanted a Survivor elm on this campus ever since I knew about them,” she said. “The Survivor Tree has produced seedlings that are now growing in 76 Oklahoma cities and towns, and in 33 different states across the country. Trees are given to us from God, and they are life-sustaining creations.”
She then cited a passage of Scripture from Genesis 1:11-12, where God created trees and plants, and He declared His creation to be good.
“May God bless this tree and all the others that have been planted in the memory of our bombing victims,” she concluded.