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Oak sapling planting honors Jesse Owens legacy

OAKVILLE — It has been 100 years since Olympic hero Jesse Owens and his family left Alabama for Ohio.

In the years that followed, Owens would cement his name among the greatest athletes of all time through his record-setting performances at Ohio State and, more famously, at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics.

In those Games, the gold medalists received English Oaks saplings. Owens, a four-time winner, received four trees and planted them upon returning home to Cleveland. The only known remaining tree, planted at a Cleveland high dchool, died last winter.

Efforts were undertaken, however, to preserve Owens’ legacy and his Olympic tree.

For the past seven years, Master Arborist John Palmer has been collecting and growing seedlings from acorns gathered from the tree.

“Since I was not skilled in grafting, I decided to do it the old-fashioned way and just grow trees from acorns,” said Palmer. “I liken the difference between grafting and growing trees from acorns as the difference between a ‘duplicate’ and a ‘descendant.’ One is not necessarily better than the other.”

So, last week, a tree-planting ceremony and reception was held in the Lawrence County community of Oakville, home to Owens’ birthplace.

Palmer and three of Jesse Owens’ granddaughters were on hand for the occasion.

For Marlene Owens Rankin and the family, the ceremony was “truly a full circle moment.”

“A sapling from the original English Oak presented to my father in 1936 has come to his place of origin,” said Rankin. “It represents his beginning and the launching of his life thereafter. We hope it flourishes in this special place.”

“I do not consider myself the ‘owner’ of these trees. I am simply the steward,” said Palmer. “The Jesse Owens Museum was always my choice to receive the first of these saplings. It’s taken many years for the trees to become large enough to transport and transplant.

“My commitment is to make every effort to see that this sapling grows to maturity by working with appropriate consulting arborists helping oversee the tree in its new home.”

Jesse Owens Museum Director Nancy Pinion said, “Everyone is invited to come and help us celebrate Jesse’s life and accomplishments through this historic tree planting. We are grateful that John Palmer learned of the existence of the museum and park and felt it imperative that this sapling be planted at Oakville, Jesse’s Alabama birthplace.

“The museum and park’s mission is to provide a living memorial to Jesse Owens at his birthplace, to honor and perpetuate his athletic achievements and sportsmanship as well as his accomplishments as a humanitarian. If you haven’t visited, it is time you came.”

The Jesse Owens Museum is at 7019 County Road 203 in Danville.

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