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It came crashing down on a chilly Tuesday in early January. The ground rumbled and shook.
The old tree didn’t go quietly.
Carnations were later spotted, placed at the site in honor of the old friend.
Many students have now returned to campus for Spring Semester, but without the Old Oak that stood as a symbol of the school for 150 years.
Approximately four or five years ago, the oak began leaning, John Hall, senior director of Facilities Services, said. Several prunings of dead wood indicated a loss of root mass.
Tim Stewart, manager of Custodial Services, said the school tried to keep the tree as long as it could, but it was suffering from preservation practices from 50 years ago that have been found to actually endanger a tree’s health.
For about 10 years, the Oak Grove and graduation green were watered with a farm pipe that made it difficult to control the amount of water dispensed, Hall said. In 1998, new sprinklers were installed and the streams were directed away from the oak.
Irrigation improves the environment for fungus, Stewart said, especially for armillaria mellea, which attacks the roots of oaks in the Willamette Valley. Add in the damage from residing in an urban setting, carpenter worms and nearing the end of its lifespan, and the college had one fallen symbol.
“When a tree starts to fade, there’s not a lot you can do with that,” Hall said.
Facilities took about seven days to clean up most of the wood. The long branch supported by the senior pole weighed in at 6,000 pounds. The trunk was 28,000 pounds and popped a tire on the flatbed truck moving it across campus.
The crew was directed to save everything left of the tree, and the wood is waiting behind the facilities office for the Old Oak Committee to make a decision.
Alumni, students and community members have been e-mailing the committee with hundreds of suggestions for the leftover wood. The group has been considering a variety of ideas.
Some want to cut a round of the trunk and mark the rings with important dates in the school’s history, create an arch to walk under during graduation, clone the oak, sell blocks of wood, make moldings for Northrup Hall, build a giant conference table, plant a new oak, make keepsakes to sell or create a garden bench for campus.
Junior Eric Butler, the student representative on the committee, said he would like to see as much of the tree stay on campus as possible.
The committee met last Friday to discuss the suggestions and decided to continue to use the oak as a symbol of the school, Butler said. No formal decisions about the remains will be announced until April.
Butler also said the committee discussed working harder to protect the Oak Grove from armallaria and trying to return the trees to a healthier state.
Stewart was positive about the oaks, but said all trees are living things, and they will come and go.
“The trees are not with us forever,” he said. “It’s a pill we all must swallow.”
If you have a suggestion for the leftover wood, e-mail the committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.