Tree Efforts Across Nebraska Recognized

April 15, 2015

Lincoln, Neb. — This year's award winners for Tree City USA Recognition Day span the state from Scottsbluff to Omaha and from big cities to the village of Potter (population 337).

Awards were given by the Nebraska Forest Service at the Nebraska State Capitol on April 1. Jessica Kelling, coordinator for the ReTree Nebraska Initiative, said, "Even one person dedicated to planting trees in a community can make a significant difference in its beauty and vitality, regardless of how populated it is or where it's located."

Tree City USA awards were given to the following people and organizations, listed by hometown:

The Dave Mooter Legacy Award was presented in memory of Ken Minnig. The award is named after Dave Mooter, forester emeritus for the Nebraska Forest Service, and presented to individuals whose lessons, actions, dedication and love for trees carry forward into the future. Minnig was inspired to take action in the mid-1990s after the loss of diseased trees around the community pool. He and other community advocates went on to create a memorial tree program for Memorial Park, develop a community tree ordinance and start an annual Arbor Day program with the Bassett Grade School, which culminated in Bassett's Tree City USA status.

The recipient of the Educator Award is Evelyn Armstrong, who taught at Bassett Grade School for 37 years until her retirement in 2014. For more than 15 years, Armstrong worked closely with the Bassett Tree Board to engage students in planning the annual Arbor Day program. She also worked with students and teachers to develop a special booklet in honor of Ken Minnig. The booklet was for Minnig, his wife Neva and the Tree Board. It includes thumbprint leaves, haiku poems with artwork, signage with online stories about trees and photos of students with trees they planted around the grade school.

The Business Award was given to Barcel Landscape Products for its support of the Community Forestry program. The business supports many landscape and tree-focused educational opportunities through the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, Nebraska Nursery and Landscape Association and Nebraska Arborist Association.

The Outstanding Tree Care Award went to Jeff Kennedy, owner/operator of Kennedy Landscape Services. Kennedy advocates for trees in Gothenburg and many other communities. He is a member of the Gothenburg Tree Board, curator of Ehmen Park Arboretum and a ReTree Ambassador. Nominators said his professional experience and dedication has served as a model for proper tree care throughout the region.

Diana and Dan Wheeler received the Volunteer Award. Over the past 10 years, the Wheelers have planted numerous trees, shrubs and plants in their yard and the adjacent Commons in the Vintage Heights Neighborhood. Diana is a master gardener and naturalist and Dan is a lifelong birder so part of their goal was to beautify the area and to attract wildlife. The Wheelers also coordinated a volunteer effort to plant trees near the Billy Wolfe Trail and Mendoza Park.

ReTree Midtown received the For Future Generations Award for its coordination of the planting of more than 55 trees in 11 neighborhoods over the past seven years. The initiative was sponsored by the Midtown Neighborhood Alliance and coordinated by John Ransom. Alliance president Diana Failla said the primary goal was sustainable neighborhoods. "Midtown Omaha has a rich heritage of mature trees but devastating storms and disease have dramatically reduced this tree canopy. We have emphasized replacement of large-maturing trees and are planting smaller ornamentals only where obstructions exist." Failla said quality of life and property value improvements motivate their passion for planting.

The village was awarded the Community Enhancement Award for establishing green space projects throughout the community. Landscape architect Hal Enevoldsen has added many new trees to public areas and worked with homeowners on new plantings. Enevoldsen led the way in incorporating such tree species as English, red and bur oak, Kentucky coffeetree, various species of pine and spruce, Subalpine Fir and Amur corktree. Over the past 14 years, Potter residents have planted nearly 600 trees.

The Media Award was presented to KNEB AM/FM Radio. Programming director Dennis Ernest and morning show host Kevin Mooney bring in local tree experts to help educate local residents on the benefits of trees and general tree selection, planting and care. Ernest and community forester Amy Seiler created a series of "Tree Spots" -- public service announcements that tree advocates and communities can use to educate their communities.

The Green Industry Award went to Aulick's TLC, an active promoter of trees in western Nebraska. In late winter and early spring, owner Annette Aulick and nursery manager Miles Imel offer an educational series on tree selection, planting, mulching and more. Their "Seedlings" program teaches youth about gardening and being good stewards of the land. They donate trees for school Arbor Day plantings, participate in ReTree Nebraska efforts and help coordinate the western summer field days.

The Youth Award went to Scottsbluff High School teachers Shane Talkington and Alan Held for their horticulture/landscaping course. Their students helped plant many of the new gardens in downtown Scottsbluff. They also created landscape plans for the new home built by students in construction classes and started vegetable plants for family consumer science classes. This spring they will help plant Scottsbluff's newest parking lot rain garden.

Jessica Kelling
Nebraska Forest Service