Back in the late 1960’s when we first fell in love and began to make plans for our life together we never thought we would end up in Ohio all these years later. While Greg was finishing up his doctoral work at Ohio State in 1975, he sent applications for assistant professor positions in Anthropology to many places all over the US and abroad. The new job could have landed us in Massachusetts, California, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and as far away as Australia. Jobs in Anthropology were difficult to come by, and we could have literally wallpapered an entire kitchen wall with the rejections he received. Finally, at the last moment, just before the beginning of fall classes in 1975, he was offered a position teaching Sociology and Anthropology for one of Kent State University’s regional campuses in East Liverpool, Ohio.
Teaching for the Kent State regional campuses had us moving around the first fourteen years of his employment. Six years after he began at the university, Joan also joined the regional campus faculty, teaching computer technology. In 1989, about two years after Greg began working full-time at the main campus, we decided, however, to move to the little college town of Kent so Greg wouldn’t have to commute every day from where we lived at the time in Burton, Geauga County, Ohio.
And so we put down roots in Ohio, where we never really intended to stay for long! We purchased an old Colonial Revival home in Kent’s historic neighborhood and have lived there ever since. Our stately home was built in 1916 by Mauda and Dudley Mason; Dudley was an executive of the former Mason Tire and Rubber Company in Kent. One of the features we love most about our home isn’t just its high ceilings, built-in cabinets, and crown molding—rather it is an old copper beech tree standing on the property, affectionately named “Old Rooty” by our children when they were little. The tree sits on a small south-facing slope next to our house, adjacent to Pioneer Avenue. It’s a big tree, with large elephantine roots and a trunk of prodigious girth. During the warmer months of the year, it has leaves of a distinctive, shiny copper color—from which the species derives its name. This remarkable copper beech has its own history, a history older than the house itself.
Some thirty years before our home was built, in the last years of the 19th Century, a young man named John Davey planted the tree on a property that belonged to the town’s namesake, Marvin Kent. We have been told it is one of several such trees that Mr. Davey brought from England, when he emigrated here. Only two of those beeches survive today, and Old Rooty is one of them.
John Davey, the man who planted our beloved tree, is well-known to Kent locals as the “Father of Tree Surgery.” He was born in Somerset in southwest England and emigrated in his twenties to America. He met and married Bertha Reeves of Ohio, the daughter of a Disciples of Christ minister. In June 1880 at the time of the Federal Census, John and his wife were living in Warren, Trumbull County, Ohio; the 1880 Census listed him as a “florist” by profession. In 1881 the couple moved to Kent, and John became caretaker of the Standing Rock Cemetery. The cemetery, dating back to the late 1850’s, had become neglected and overgrown when John first took over its care. Through hard work and his expertise in landscaping, John transformed the Standing Rock graveyard into a beautiful memorial park. John soon became known around town as the “tree man”. He was an expert in the new field of applying scientific methods to the care of tree and penned a book entitled The Tree Doctor: The Care of Trees and Plants. Davey founded the Davey Tree Expert Company, and to this day the company continues to provide tree and lawn care services. Although the company has customers throughout the United States and Canada, its corporate headquarters are still housed here in Kent. John Davey died in November of 1923 and, fittingly, is buried in Kent’s Standing Rock Cemetery, the very cemetery he transformed with his plantings of trees, shrubs, and beautiful flowers.
Old Rooty holds an important place in our family’s own history. When they were young, our children played beside its immense trunk and under the canopy of its copper-colored leaves. They were fascinated by the intricate tangle of roots that surround its base. Our son Justin once blogged about his treasured memories of the tree here: http://binarysmash.com/2013/12/21/old-rooty
Every now and then, someone knocks on our door asking us what we know about the tree and its story. They snap pictures or attempt to measure the tree’s circumference. Once a few years back someone requested permission to use our beech for an artistic project. He created an etched granite tile imprinted with a photographic image of Old Rooty. We remember the excitement generated in our family when he arrived after dark to set up his photography shoot. He sprinkled the roots of the old tree with corn starch so that they would stand out in the photograph, a necessity for the etching process he was going to use. His finished work, he said, was a symbol of Kent itself, the “Tree City,” a place with so many deep and historic roots.
This year we will have lived in our home, with Old Rooty by its side, almost a quarter of a century. Ohio was only going to be a temporary stop in our lives. Yet here we are. The course of our lives is established by myriad decisions and opportunities, by countless events and connections, some planned, and some serendipitous. Where we set down and remain is often a tangle of happenstance, the end of a convoluted, unpredictable story that brought us, John Davey and Old Rooty to put deep roots into the same soil.
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