CLEVELAND (10/29/2022) – John Palmer, an International Society of Arborists Board Certified Master Arborist® from Cleveland, began a personal mission in 2016 to help preserve a crucial Olympic legacy. In September 1937, Cleveland’s Jesse Owens – who won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin – planted an English Oak Tree sapling in the courtyard at James Ford Rhodes High School on Cleveland’s southwest side. This sapling was one of four from the Black Forest, one for each gold medal, which Owens received from the host nation Germany. While the location of some of the other tree saplings was indeterminate, the tree planted at Rhodes and the reason for its presence there was evident from the onset.
“Rhodes had the newest cinder track in Cleveland in 1935, and my cousin came across town to Rhodes to train on this track for the 1936 Olympics,” says Tyrone Owens, a third cousin of Jesse and a long-time track coach at (appropriately enough) Rhodes. “We in the coaching community knew about the tree, and occasionally we’d tell the story about Owens’ triumphs at the tree before or after track meets.”
Fast forward about 35 years, and by then, the only known location of the Owens oak trees was the one at Rhodes HS. On a trip to Cleveland from his (then) home of Chicago in October 1972, Owens visited Rhodes to speak with students and check up on his oak tree. Stories about the oak tree appeared in newspaper stories for decades afterward, even after Owens died in 1980.
But the tree was reaching the end of its life. Enter Mr. Palmer, who harvested about 300 acorns from the Owens Oak Tree between 2016 and 2021. Palmer invested hundreds of hours in planting, watering, and growing the acorns into saplings. As of July 2022, about 25 viable saplings are growing on a farm in Northeast Ohio.
“Jesse Owens was the first-ever global sports hero, and his athletic accomplishments in Berlin forever smashed Adolf Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy,” Palmer says. “Sadly, not enough has been done to celebrate and commemorate Owens’ legacy in Cleveland, his home where he grew into adulthood, began competing in track, got married, had children, and won those four gold medals in the Berlin Olympics.”
In August, Palmer chose to donate two of the oak tree saplings. One is going to the Sports Legends of Cleveland (SLOC), a non-profit dedicated to the legacy of athletes in Cleveland schools and helping support current Cleveland Metropolitan Schools athletes.
To help fund SLOC’s goal of establishing a permanent exhibit dedicated to Jesse Owens and other Olympic athletes and top sports legends of Cleveland, Palmer has authorized the Sports Legends of Cleveland to “put up for adoption” an Oak Tree Sapling from the Owens Oak Tree. SLOC will be entertaining offers or bids to “adopt” the Owens Oak Tree Sapling beginning at its annual banquet on October 29 and concluding by mid-December.
“We hope that a corporate sponsor or city would be interested in partnering with Sports Legends of Cleveland to help perpetuate the legacy of Jesse Owen in Northeast Ohio,” Smith said. “We’re very grateful to Mr. Palmer for his donation. We hope we can continue to help perpetuate Jesse Owens’ legacy and greatness with a sapling tree which sprang from an acorn from the oak tree Jesse planted in Cleveland.”
The winning adoption bid will receive the Jesse Owens Oak Tree Sapling as long as the adapter pledges to follow the “Adoption Guidelines” established for the planting and growth of the sapling (see link below).
“Jesse Owens epitomized all that is good in America,” Tyrone Owens adds. “He was selfless. He was committed to excellence. He endured as a national and international representative of Olympic ideals and the best of our nation for more than four decades after his 1936 triumphs in Berlin. And he was also fully committed to a diverse and inclusive America with equal opportunities for everyone.”
Here is “A Deep Rooted Legacy Preserved,” a video about Jesse Owens and the oak tree saplings, produced by Portia Booker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaMEL3Qfrno
Below are two files for those interested in sponsoring/adopting the Owens Oak Tree sapling.
For information or to inquire about sponsoring/adopting, email Sports Legends of Cleveland at email@example.com
Eyeoncleveland founder John Kerezy wrote this story. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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