The Family Tree


Acorns Don’t Fall Far from the Oak

By Walter Munday

Community Outreach Supervisor

In April, Louisville and cities throughout America celebrate Arbor Day, and 2012 marks the 140th anniversary of this holiday which encourages individuals and groups to plant and care for trees in their communities.

Arbor Day originated in 1872 in Nebraska City, Nebraska, by J. Sterling Morton. The first Arbor Day was held on April 10th of that year with an estimated 1 million trees planted that day. One hundred years later, in 1972, on the Arbor Day centennial, the Arbor Day Foundation was founded, and since then, it has grown to become the largest nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees, with over one million members, supporters, and valued partners.

Louisville and the suburban cities of Anchorage, Bellemeade, Kingsley, Lyndon, Prospect and Watterson Park are among 25 Kentucky cities recognized by the National Arbor Day Foundation as Tree City USA Communities. Louisville has long recognized and appreciated the value of trees. Our community understands that trees help make our city a greener, healthier place to live. One such example was the concentrated effort to plant trees along the Olmsted Parkways in the late 1800’s. Many of those trees still stand today.

One of the contributing factors to the longevity of a tree is regular maintenance. Metro Parks has long applied regular maintenance to its trees through its Forestry Division. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with a unique family who have worked on trees in our parks for nearly forty years – let’s meet the Blankenship boys (pictured above).

The setting for this story took place at 528 Eastern Parkway just east of Crittenden Drive at the site where the Division of Forestry unfortunately was forced to remove a huge red oak tree, one of the largest and oldest trees along the entire 15 miles of Olmsted Parkways. The tree measured more than 60 inches in diameter and was approximately 130-plus years old. It was forced to be removed because it fell victim to Hypoxylon Canker, a disease which greatly affects oak trees, and is most widespread in the southern regions of the United States.

Earl Blankenship started with Louisville Metro Parks in 1973. Earl’s father was a logger, so his love for trees came naturally. When Earl began working for Metro Parks, the city didn’t own bucket trucks, so maintaining trees required using a technique called “footlocking”, a process of using two parts of a rope to ascend up/down a tree. At this time, the forestry division was called upon not only to service trees, but also to change light bulbs on city street lights and ball fields. Earl remembers being able to climb a 100 ft. light pole in 15.4 seconds.

While chatting with Earl, he quickly pointed out that the one day he’d never forget was Wednesday, April 3, 1974, when the Super Tornado Outbreak tore through Louisville. Earl vividly remembered working in the trees in Cherokee Park earlier that day, and returning back to the office about 20 minutes before an F4 tornado destroyed many of the same trees he and his team had worked on less than an hour earlier. Thousands of trees were lost that day, and Earl was part of the crew which undertook a massive replanting to help restore the park’s tree canopy.

Notice the discoloration on the branches. This is known as Hypoxylon Canker disease which had spread throughout the tree.
Notice the discoloration on the branches. This is known as Hypoxylon Canker disease which had spread throughout the tree.




On several occasions during the interview, Earl talked about the people with whom he worked. He went further to say that that was one of the things he loved about working for Metro Parks – the people. He specifically talked about Bob Howell, his former boss and Bob Kirchdorfer who was the Director of Metro Parks through the late 1970s and 80s.

Earl was loved, too. In fact, before we had completed the interview, one of Earl’s old co-workers – Jack Gaddie – stopped by just to say hi, and to chat a few minutes after learning about the interview.

Earl retired in 1999 after working 26 ½ years for Metro Parks. When asked, if he could do it all over again would he change anything, his response was, “not a chance”.

Although Earl has retired, he’s not too far from the action. I guess you might say that the acorn didn’t fall far from the oak in this family as Earl’s son Mike joined Louisville Metro Parks’ Forestry Division in 2000.

Above is a picture of Earl in front of a “slice” taken out of the big Oak on Eastern Parkway.

“I’ve been working around trees my whole life,” Mike said while standing next to his dad.

“I started working with my dad at age six.”

Mike, a Forestry Supervisor II, admits he had big shoes to fill when coming to work in the same place his dad did. Mike remembered going out with his dad at night when Earl would return to a park to remove a hornet or bee hive from a tree the forestry staff had planned to work in the following day. Mike said he would sit in the truck and hold a flashlight on the hive’s hole so his dad could take a large trash bag, and with his bare hands swoop it over the hive and remove it from the tree.

“No way was I going to get out of that truck,” Mike said laughing.

When I asked Mike what was one of the things he loved about his job, he quickly pointed to working with his boss Mesude Duyar-Ozyurekoglu, Manager of Metro Parks’ Forestry Division, to annually pick the city’s holiday tree which is displayed downtown in Jefferson Square.

“Being part of something that big which impacts and creates memories for so many is very cool,” Mike explained.

Six years ago, another acorn fell, this time it was Mike’s son Matt who began working for Metro Parks as a seasonal. One year later, Matt came to work full-time as Park Worker II, later transitioning to Horticulture I at Jefferson Memorial Forest. Matt is in the Natural Areas Division which is focused on trail maintenance and land management. Like his dad, Matt began working with trees at age six.

“I love working for Metro Parks. Ultimately though, I’d like to follow in the footsteps of my dad and papaw and work in the Division of Forestry,” Matt acknowledged.

Matt, 26, is married with one daughter named Khloeigh. Although Matt and his wife plan to have more children, maybe even a boy next time, Matt is confident that either way, the Blankenship Family Tree will live on as illustrated by a picture of Khloeigh recently snapped while sitting on a tree limb.

Mesude, as mentioned earlier, oversees the Forestry Division. She and Mike came to Forestry within a year of each other. She said that Mike is always ready to do anything asked of him regardless of how difficult the task. Mesude went on to say,

“Mike is one of the most valuable assets at Metro Parks and a great friend.”

As we celebrate Arbor Day this year, we not only pay tribute to our forefathers and mothers who designed, planted and protected our beautiful trees, but also to all of the individuals today who work hard to ensure that our beautiful tree canopy survives for generations and generations to come.

Happy Arbor Day!


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