By Mason Editor Beth Grace

Late one night this summer, along the old farm road on the Masonic Home for Children campus, a tree died.

The oak had been dying for years, for longer than anyone can remember. Nobody knows how old it was. Could have been 50; could have been 150.

Now, a tree might just be a tree. But this one was different.

This one was an old friend, a reliable campus landmark and touchstone for generations of MHCO kids. So there was mourning after the tree in the wee hours of that unremarkable night simply let go, dropping its ancient branches in exhaustion and giving way to time, gravity and nature.

When a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?

Yes. And it makes an impact.

This tree, one of hundreds of oaks that have guarded the MHCO campus and residents for decades, was truly a family tree.

Ask any of the kids who grew up “under the oaks,” as alumni like to say.

One of those kids – a man of years and experience now – talks about the trees as if they were his childhood friends.

“Under any of the trees there, we would marvel at their age and size,” says Amos Speight, who now serves on the MHCO board of directors. “Every tree meant something to us. It was a place to sit under, to eat an apple under. The trees really had a comforting feeling for us … and it was something that meant permanence, something that meant stability.”

The death of just any old tree normally would have gone unnoticed, but this death was reported during an MHCO committee meeting. Administrator Kevin Otis broke the news, and you could hear the sad reaction on the conference call.

“What was so special about this tree?” I asked.

Amos didn’t hesitate to talk about it, then Kevin chimed in.

“These trees mean so much to the kids and the staff here,” he said. They have been on campus so long, their personalities have come through and won friends.

He explained that for many MHCO kids, permanence and stability are not the norm in their lives.

They have found that stability in the family cottages protected by the strong branches of the oaks. Their presence – even the leaves they shed by the truckload in the fall – are part of life at the children’s home, part of the scenery.

Kids who grew up at MHCO will tell you about their first kiss under one of those trees, the time they read a book that changed their life on a lazy summer afternoon in the shade, the perfect hidey hole they provided during countless games of hide-and-seek.

Once, long ago, they were even a source of income for the kids who grabbed up falling acorns and sold them to neighbors for pennies. Most of the tree have grown where they were planted, but some have even been moved over the years to allow for MHCO expansion – without losing any of the beloved oaks.

The trees are the longest-lived witnesses of the work done at MHCO, the kids who have arrived in a time of trouble, made it through the dark and emerged strong and ready to tackle life.

To lose even one tree is to lose part of the home’s history. It is no small loss, no small matter.

To remember one is to honor the good work Masons have done here, the help children have found and what seeds we can plant now for the future.

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