By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
A scraggly old spruce tree had occupied a prominent spot on the lawn in front of the historic sanctuary of St. Joseph Catholic Church.
Wanting to beautify the area, members of the community received permission from Father Perry Cherubini, St. Joseph’s pastor, to replace the aesthetically challenged spruce with an alluring sycamore that has silky green leaves and stands about 15 feet tall.
During an Arbor Day celebration Friday, Sea Isle City officials and local environmentalists formally dedicated the sycamore, as well as another new sycamore that decorates the sidewalk next to the 137-year-old church at the corner of 44th Street and Landis Avenue.
In remarks during the outdoor ceremony, Father Cherubini spoke of the beauty, majesty and grandeur of trees. He also noted that by planting the sycamores, Sea Isle is contributing to the overall health of the environment “by replenishing the beautiful Earth with life-giving trees.”
The sycamore on the church lawn swayed while its lithe branches were buffeted by strong winds on a blustery Friday afternoon. Before the Arbor Day ceremony began, workers from the city’s Public Works Department removed folding chairs to prevent them from blowing away.
Sea Isle’s Environmental Commission, Garden Club and Historical Society sponsored the ceremony. The Garden Club paid for the sycamore planted on the church lawn, while the Environmental Commission picked up the cost for the sycamore overlooking the sidewalk on 44th Street, city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
Mayor Leonard Desiderio read from a city proclamation that pointed out the myriad environmental benefits of trees. Using his powers as mayor, he joked that he was officially giving all of Sea Isle’s trees “the day off” in celebration of Arbor Day.
Desiderio said trees not only beautify the community and enhance the environment, but also contribute to the city’s economic vitality by boosting property values and making businesses more attractive.
Former Sea Isle Mayor Mike McHale, who served as emcee of the ceremony, also cited a series of environmental benefits attributed to trees, including clean air, clean water, shade, habitat for wildlife and healthy communities.
“Arbor Day represents the hope for the future,” McHale said.
Ron Kovatis, a member of the Historical Society, took to the podium to recite Joyce Kilmer’s classic 1913 poem “Trees.”
Audience members smiled as Kovatis spoke the poem’s stirring opening lines, “I think that I shall never see … A poem lovely as a tree.”
Arbor Day was founded in the United States in 1872 by Nebraska newspaper editor and politician J. Sterling Morton, who later served as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture. On the first Arbor Day on April 10, 1872, an estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska at Morton’s urging.
In Sea Isle, the John F. Kennedy Boulevard entryway and the Landis Avenue corridor in the downtown business district were enhanced with new trees in 2019 as part of a $98,000 beautification project.
Altogether, 40 trident maples were planted along JFK Boulevard and 35 sweetbay magnolias were added to Landis Avenue between 39th and 43rd streets.
The completion of the beautification project was celebrated by city officials and other dignitaries on Arbor Day in 2019.
Since then, some of the trees have died, but the city is consulting with a landscape architect along with the contractor that planted the maples and magnolias to have the dead ones replaced.
Separately, the Environmental Commission will be adding even more green to Sea Isle by holding a raffle to give away 30 trees to local property owners. Winners will be selected during a random drawing on Sunday, May 16.
Raffle winners may choose from the following varieties of trees: Dapple willow, limelight hydrangea, crepe myrtle and little gem magnolia.
The Environmental Commission’s landscaper will deliver and plant the 5-foot-tall trees for free.
So far, there have been more than 300 entries in the raffle, said Annette Lombardo, chair of the Environmental Commission.
“They’re free. All you have to do is water them,” Lombardo said of the care the raffle winners will need to give to the trees.