PTA President Helen McCoy, unidentified teacher and Superintendent Bryce Rathbun Arbor Day 1967. 

By Mike McCoy, Executive Director, Kern County Museum 

There was a time when American school children and civic groups would solemnly gather in April, dig holes, and plant trees. I remember my PTA President mother Helen McCoy and Standard School Superintendent Bryce Rathbun digging holes on the school playground and planting Modesto Ash. She wore a dress and high heels and Mr. Rathbun a suit and necktie. They were ably assisted by enthusiastic sixth graders and the principal. Sixty years later, the ash trees are still in evidence at Highland, Standard, and Wingland Elementary Schools in Oildale.  

Arbor Day was declared a national holiday by President Theodore Roosevelt on April 15, 1907. The idea had originated by J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska City, Nebraska, at an annual meeting of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture held in Lincoln.1 On April 10, 1872, an estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska

Pennsylvania conservationist Israel McCreight urged Roosevelt to make a public statement to school children about trees and the destruction of American forests. Soon Roosevelt issued an “Arbor Day Proclamation to the School Children of the United States” about the importance of trees and that forestry deserves to be taught in U.S. schools.  

The Kern County Museum is a 16-acre oasis in the center of Bakersfield and home to hundreds of trees. Many of the trees have memorial plaques and labels with the name of the tree. Unfortunately, due to drought stress and the occasional storm, the Museum has lost a fair number of trees over the last few years. Luckily, the Arbor Day tradition is still alive. 

Led by Eagle candidate Colby Hughes of Troop 13, a number of Boy Scouts gathered on April 22 to plant six Krauter Vesuvius Purple Plum trees in Pioneer Village at the Museum. The popular ornamental tree was first propagated in Kern County by nurseryman Howard Krauter and is one of the most popular landscape trees in the world. While we had all of that scout power, we also added a couple Raywood Claret Ash trees in honor of Ted and Robin Little. A wonderful project that will bring shade to and fall color to our museum.  

Boy Scout Colby Hughes of Troop 13.

If you are interested in connecting with the Tree Foundation of Kern County, the local non-profit helps civic clubs, churches, schools, and home owners plant trees — https://treefoundationofkern.org/. As the old Greek proverb says, “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.” 

Footnotes 

  1. N.H. Egleston (1896). Arbor Day:Its History and Observance. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. p. 14. 
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