|'Johnny Appleseed' organizes tree-planting project|
Volunteers plant seeds for a variety of trees near the Des
Plaines River as part of Riverside (Ill.) United Methodist Church's "The
1,000 Tree Planting Project."
UMNS photos by Jon Kaplan.
By Jon Kaplan*
Dec. 5, 2007 | RIVERSIDE, Ill. (UMNS)
Tom Sisulak smiles when locals refer to him as their own "Johnny Appleseed." He considers it a compliment and a calling.
When Sisulak noticed many trees in his tree-filled hometown were
starting to die, he sounded an environmental call to arms. He asked his
United Methodist church to help.
"While I was helping our Riverside forester clear brush along the Des
Plaines River, I noticed that the older trees in Riverside were dying
off at a fast rate," said Sisulak. "In 10 years or so, we might lose a
lot of the natural beauty and heritage of our town. I knew I had to do
For 35 years, this coach and conservationist has been doing more than
his share. He’s personally planted more than 15,000 trees in Illinois,
Indiana and Wisconsin. As a member of Riverside United Methodist Church,
he affirms that the earth is God’s good creation and we must be its
Sisulak’s faith and philosophy were the inspirations for an idea he
called "The 1,000 Tree Planting Project." His goal was to gather
volunteers to plant a thousand seedlings in the forested areas near the
river. The idea immediately took root with his own congregation and
Pastor Bromleigh McCleneghan.
"The people of Riverside United Methodist Church have spent the last
months studying about our special responsibility for our environment,"
McCleneghan explained. "The 1,000 Tree Planting Project was the perfect
fit for us. This project is grounded in the history of our tradition and
in our Christian hope for and investment in the future."
Sisulak had originally planned the project for last spring, but a
cicada emergence this past summer would have destroyed the young trees
he hoped to plant. Instead, Sisulak proposed waiting until the fall and
planting seeds rather than seedlings. The church and town officials
Sisulak spent several months gathering acorns and other seeds that had
fallen from trees throughout the village. By November, he’d collected
1,000 seeds for trees native to Illinois – Northern Red Oak, Burr Oak,
Black Walnut and Hickory.
On a cold, damp Saturday in mid-November, Sisulak gathered volunteers in
the basement of Riverside United Methodist Church to dole out the seeds
and instruct teams on the best planting methods. During a brief
ceremony, he dedicated the planting project to the congregation’s
youngest and oldest members: 3-month-old Fiona Hammond, the pastor’s
daughter, and 99-year-old Frank Sisulak, Tom’s father.
Art Shagonee, a Native American, leads a blessing ceremony before the volunteers head off to plant the seeds.
"My father, Frank, is like the mighty oak and little Fiona is like the
acorn; together, they connect the past, present and future life of our
church and our community," Sisulak said.
Pastor McCleneghan added, "They remind us that God binds all of creation
together, across many miles, across all walks of life and across many
Sisulak also had a close family friend, Art Shagonee, a Native American,
perform a sacred dance to bless the project. Native Americans lived in
this region thousands of years ago and used the trees for shelter,
tools, clothing and jewelry.
Following the ceremony, volunteers of all ages and backgrounds went
to work. Despite less than ideal weather conditions, all teams completed
the project in less than three hours. Afterward, everyone was
enthusiastic about the experience.
"The fact that something’s going to be here 100 years from now that’s not manmade makes it important," said volunteer Bob Finn.
Several parents saw the project as a great way to get families involved
in outdoor quality time. "I’m hoping they had fun, learned a little
about the environment, and I hope these trees are here when they grow
up," remarked Jane Murphy, mother of four young children who planted
seeds near the river.
"I think they learned about nature and learned about doing a good deed,"
added Dan Gmitro, father of three boys who also took part.
"You plant six or eight seeds and you might get one tree. You could say
those aren’t very good odds, but you could also say that it is our need
and our call to go plant as many as we can so that something will come,"
McCleneghan said. "I think there’s a sense of hope. We’re contributing
to something that is beyond ourselves."
Sisulak hopes that contribution is even bigger next year. He plans to
have 10 United Methodist churches from across the country join forces in
planting 10,000 trees one day next fall. People who are interested can
contact him through Riverside United Methodist Church at www.umcriverside.org.
*Kaplan is a freelance producer and writer in Chicago.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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