Now that spring is here, the trees are budding and soon there will be a canopy of rich, green leaves covering thecity. A source of great pride for New London residents are the tree-lined streets and green spaces we enjoy.
Over 30 years ago, in the late 1970s, Rotarian Ray Kamps was concerned about the number of trees that were coming down in New London. Many were mature trees that were tangled in power lines up and down the streets. City crews were taking them down at an alarming rate and Kamps knew if this continued the city would soon look like many cities he’d traveled through that had little in the way of shade and color.
Kamps approached his friends in Rotary about the situation. He went to Fritz Bernegger and then to Ken Renning, president of the Rotary at the time, and asked if they could start a plan to replace the trees. Bernegger loved the idea, and so did Renning. “It got the full support of the club and we were off to plant some trees,” says Kamps. “We ran with it.”
Renning recalls it too. “We had a lot of fun getting out there and digging holes for those trees,” said Renning. “They were nice trees we put in, and when I see them in front of the schools and around the city now I am gratified knowing I did my part.”
An April 1981 photo from the Press-Star shows Rotarians Wally Pabst, Howard Sanstadt and Mike Brunner planting a tree with a foreign exchange student.
Renning said the Rotary was over 40 members strong in those days and Kamps recalls the many outings the Rotary had throughout the year. “We would have couples parties so the spouses could be part of our Rotary too. If you had your wife backing you, you could get a lot done,” he said with a smile.
Kamps and his wife came to New London in 1954 and they were impressed by the tree-lined streets and parks. As a traveler all his life, Kamps recalls each time he took a trip within the United States, that upon returning home he was proud to live here. “It’s because we have a beautiful city, and the trees are so important to the way we feel when we drive into town,” says Kamps.
Since it’s been over 30 years that the Rotary has been planting trees each spring, a drive down Werner Allen Blvd. or up past the middle school will reveal many mature trees and many new trees that have been planted, courtesy of the Rotary. More trees are growing at Parkview Elementary, the hospital, at Pfeifer Park, Floral Hill Cemetery, and even out at Sugar Bush Elementary School. Younger trees will stand tall someday at Memorial Park and at the New London Heritage Historical Village, the new dog park and at Wolf River Plaza.
New London Park and Rec Director Chad Hoerth heads up the Tree City USA effort, now in it’s 18th year, and is happy the Rotary keeps their tradition alive. Several years ago the Rotary started a partnership with the city. They now plan together where new trees should go, and what kind of trees should be planted. Hoerth looks at the inventory of trees to help decide what kind of trees are needed. “Fifty percent of our inventory are maple trees,” said Hoerth. “So we are trying to build into the inventory other trees that are native to Wisconsin that will grow well and enhance our green spaces.”
“We haven’t always had students helping us either,” says Rita Thiel, another Rotarian. Last week the Rotary Club joined forces with the New London FFA students to plant five white oaks and five little leaf Lindens at Pfeifer Park and at the new Jaycees Dog Park.
“It made light work for us old folks this year to have so many students out there digging,” said Thiel. This new tradition started just a few years ago when Rotarian and School Administrator Bill Fitzpatrick paired the FFA club with the planting for a community service project. It’s a new tradition that compliments an old tradition. FFA Advisor Jeff Meske works right alongside his students, teaching and giving them room to learn. Kamps, who admits to having trouble with his back, was happy that the club received the help of these students.
The Aug. 20 storm last year brought down hundreds of trees in New London. Both private homeowners and other groups in the community are stepping up and planting trees, too.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” said Kamps. “For every tree that comes down, another should be planted.”