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Slash pine planted at The Sanibel School in memory of Sam Bailey

By Staff | Feb 1, 2011

Third grade students at The Sanibel School planted a slash pine along their boardwalk area on Friday as part of their annual Arbor Day celebration.

Although it has been nearly 139 years since the first Arbor Day celebration took place, last week’s ceremonial planting of a new tree — a slash pine — at The Sanibel School carried almost as much emotion and enthusiasm as a national holiday.

That’s because Renae Atkinson and Annie Franke’s third grade students were planting this year’s tree in honor of Sam Bailey, the island pioneer who dedicated his life to preserving Sanibel and forwarding causes that benefitted the entire community, especially its youth.

“Mr. Sam Bailey was a man of many virtues; a proud sponsor of island activities,” said Carley Ross, who emceed the 30-minute program held inside the school’s cafetorium. “He possessed honesty, creativity and a strong will for getting things done.”

The ceremony was also attended by Francis Bailey, Sam’s brother, Berdenna Thompson. representing the City of Sanibel’s Vegetation Committee, and family members of the students.

“Sam enjoyed talking about his island youth, like using coconuts as a football,” Ross continued. “As a sports-minded man, Sam became the coach at Tampa University. Sam was a kind and thoughtful man that will be missed.”

Berdenna Thompson, left, with Francis Bailey at Friday's Arbor Day ceremony.

The nine-foot tall slash pine, as well as several other juvenile trees — Jamaican Dogwood, Mahogany, Mastic, Paradise and Wild Tamarind — were donated by Richard Finkel, environmental educator with Captiva Cruises, who purchased the plants from the SCCF Native Plant Nursery. Throughout the year, third graders will care for the smaller trees, then take them home to plant in their own yards.

Also during the program, John LaBar read his essay, “What is Arbor Day?” Other essays and poems were read by students before music director Joe Angelo conducted the class in a performance of “Wonders of the Earth.”

“It’s hard to believe that we’ve been celebrating Arbor Day here at the school for 21 years,” said Barbara Von Harten, principal of The Sanibel School, who offered high praise for the dedication of the entire third grade class and teachers involved in coordinating the event. “These children will be able to come back to the school when they’ve grown up, look at the tree, and tell their children that they helped plant it.”

Von Harten also acknowledged the memory of Sam Bailey, adding, “Sam was such a great guy. He loved this community and was always a wonderful supporter of The Sanibel School.”

Thompson, who noted that she has helped stage the annual Arbor Day celebration at the school for the past two decades, smiled after watching the students install the slash pine near the center of the parking lot area.

Third graders, including Geovanny, John, Grayson, Knox, Christian, Tyler and Cameron, assisting in the planting of the slash pine.

“I just love seeing the kids enthusiasm for planting trees,” she said. “This school has always been very responsible in teaching our youth about conservation and ways to help protect the earth.”

The first Arbor Day took place on April 10, 1872 in Nebraska, organized by journalist Julius Sterling Morton. Throughout his long and productive career, Morton worked to improve agricultural techniques in his adopted state and throughout the United States when he served as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture.

In the years following that first Arbor Day, during which more than one million trees were planted, Morton’s idea spread beyond Nebraska with Kansas, Tennessee, Minnesota and Ohio all proclaiming their own Arbor Days. Today, all 50 states celebrate Arbor Day although the dates may vary in keeping with the local climate. Traditionally, the State of Florida issues a proclamation declaring as Arbor Day the third Friday in January.

Students add water to the newly-planted tree.

From left, Barbara Von Harten, Annie Franke, Berdenna Thompson, Renae Atkinson and Francis Bailey.