WOOSTER, Ohio Ã¢â¬â Thirty-some years ago, Ken Cochran gave Mario Cekada, just starting out in the nursery industry, a helping hand.
Last week, Cekada returned the favor. His now-successful business, Rusty Oak Nursery of Valley City near Cleveland, spent two days planting trees in WoosterÃ¢â¬â¢s Secrest Arboretum.
A tornado in September knocked down 1,500 trees there. Cochran is the facilityÃ¢â¬â¢s program director.
Ã¢â¬ÅKen would talk to my dad when my dad was a nobody in the nursery business,Ã¢â¬Â said CekadaÃ¢â¬â¢s son Kirk, Rusty OakÃ¢â¬â¢s field manager and a former student of Cochran at the Agricultural Technical Institute (ATI) next door. Ã¢â¬ÅSo itÃ¢â¬â¢s a pay-it-forward kind of thing.
Ã¢â¬ÅWeÃ¢â¬â¢re trying to help as much as we can to put things back into place,Ã¢â¬Â Kirk Cekada said as his power tree spade idled behind him, holding aloft a 15-foot tree with a massive, wedge-shaped rootball. A freshly dug hole awaited, its sides cut cleanly by the spadeÃ¢â¬â¢s hydraulic blades.
The tornado hit the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC), of which the arboretum is a part, and surrounding neighborhoods on Sept. 16. It left about 30 of the arboretumÃ¢â¬â¢s 120 acres virtually clearcut.
Since then, Cochran said, Ã¢â¬ÅThe support from people in the industryÃ¢â¬Â Ã¢â¬â in-kind donations of plants and labor Ã¢â¬â Ã¢â¬Åhas been tremendous.Ã¢â¬Â
The Rusty Oak crew dug dozens of large spruce, zelkova and Manchurian ash trees from the arboretumÃ¢â¬â¢s nursery, hauled them a half mile or so, and planted them in places where there used to be tall trees, both in the arboretum proper and on the main OARDC campus.
Ã¢â¬ÅWeÃ¢â¬â¢re grateful for their help,Ã¢â¬Â Cochran said. Ã¢â¬ÅWe couldnÃ¢â¬â¢t have gotten this work done without them, at least not nearly so soon.Ã¢â¬Â
ATI and OARDC are both part of Ohio State University.
Ã¢â¬ÅI did a lot of my work (while at ATI) here,Ã¢â¬Â Kirk Cekada said, pointing to OARDCÃ¢â¬â¢s tornado-flattened greenhouses nearby. Ã¢â¬ÅI remember all these places.Ã¢â¬Â His brother and coworker Chad is a former student of Cochran too.
Ã¢â¬ÅKen was my supervisor and taught a lot of my classes,Ã¢â¬Â Kirk Cekada said. Ã¢â¬ÅHe spent a lot of time with me here, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. He didnÃ¢â¬â¢t have to do that. So, any way we can help, weÃ¢â¬â¢re happy to do it.
Ã¢â¬ÅThe only way weÃ¢â¬â¢re going to have places like (Secrest Arboretum), after a disaster like this, is by doing what weÃ¢â¬â¢re doing.Ã¢â¬Â
Cleanup, repairs and replanting in the arboretum, both by volunteers and OARDC workers, will continue indefinitely.
Ohio State has started a Secrest Arboretum renewal fund. Learn more at http://www.giveto.osu.edu/secrestfund or call 330-464-2148.
At the time of this writing, the arboretum and main OARDC campus remain closed to the public at large.
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Caption: KirK Cekada of Rusty Oak Nursery in northeast Ohio plants a Manchurian ash tree at the tornado-damaged Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster. (K.D. Chamberlain image)