In 2021, Cheltenham Township launched its new tree donation program, through which residents can commemorate a loved one and help to reforest areas of Cheltenham that have lost trees due to disease and storm damage.
Simonia Harrison, who lost her daughter to a terrible fire in Elkins Park, was one of the donors for the program’s inaugural year. Rakeisha Tyanna Harrison was 34 years old when she lost her life to an early morning blaze in Lynnewood Gardens on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2015. In past years on the MLK day anniversary, Simonia and her daughter Sidra worked with the La Mott Fire Company and Red Cross to commemorate Rakeisha through a fire prevention event at the La Mott Community Center. In early 2021, Simonia and Sidra reached out to Township staff to discuss other ways to memorialize their daughter and sister.
Finally, on November 23, 2021, Rakeisha’s loved ones gathered at Curtis Arboretum to see the newly planted specimen caliper red maple tree. Sitting a small distance off the upper parking lot, the tree is accompanied by a plaque dedicating the tree in memory of Rakeisha. Though the branches are bare for this seventh anniversary of her passing, when it blooms in the spring, its brilliant red display will be Rakeisha’s favorite color.
Simonia reflected, “Life's storms, especially death, can either stunt or accelerate our spiritual growth. The determining factor is our reaction to it. Losses, mainly sudden ones, tend to be the most life-altering. God allows us to experience loss because it's in this process that we grow. Faith makes all things possible.” Through the new tree at the arboretum, Ms. Harrison, Sidra, and their family will be reminded of that growth each time they visit.
The concept of planting a tree as a living memorial was embraced by many of the Township’s tree donors.
In fact, Simonia Harrison wasn’t the only mother to have a tree planted in memory of a child gone too young. Christine Bloom memorialized her son Christopher with a tree near the soccer fields on Tookany Creek Parkway. Christopher Bloom passed away from a brain tumor at the age of 13. Christine was joined by her mother and two friends to see the new dogwood on November 24, just 3 days before the fifth anniversary of Christopher’s passing. The Kousa Dogwood will have a pretty white flower bloom in the spring, as well as red fruit pods in the fall, which Christine says Christopher would have loved.
In fact, one of the women who came with Christine to see the new tree at Tookany Creek was Christopher’s teacher at Cedarbrook Middle School, Sarah Putterman. Sarah had met Christine at those fields years ago as their daughters played together. It was Sarah who informed Christine about the new tree program, as she had donated a tree as well, in memory of her father-in-law. Of the new pin oak at Curtis Arboretum, Sarah said, “Boris Putterman didn't want a gravesite, but he would be tickled to be remembered at Curtis in such a healthy and beautiful way.”
In addition to memorializing loved ones, the Township has had donors honor neighbors, anniversaries, and spouses through the program, and others who simply wanted to give back to their community in a way that helps the environment. The program offers a number of giving levels – for tree stakes, bare root trees, and specimen trees, as well as the option to “adopt” a tree by supporting maintenance costs for a year or more.
Township staff members have been thrilled to see the great reception for this program and hear from donors who regularly visit their trees. The Schmidt family even decorated their two Linden trees near the upper lot at Curtis Arboretum for the holidays, spreading cheer to the many pedestrians who traverse the Arboretum!
The inaugural year of the program brought 24 new trees to Cheltenham parks, including Wall Park, Thomas Williams Park, Melrose Park, and several locations along the Tookany Creek Parkway, in addition to Curtis Arboretum. Tree varieties planted in 2021 include: Greenspire Linden, Scarlet Oak, Swamp White Oak, Pin Oak, Red Maple, Sugar Maple, Sweetgum, and Kousa Dogwood.
Spring planting season starts in April, so it’s a great time to start thinking about donating a tree! If you are interested in commemorating a loved one or special event, email [email protected] or visit our website: www.cheltenhamtownship.org > I want to …> Donate a Tree.