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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


Tree care all in a volunteer day's work

A volunteer worker trims a tree with a chainsaw

Not only did tree service employees volunteer, but companies provided their own equipment such as lifts, trucks, saw and wood chippers. (photo by Benjamin R. Slane)

By Jim Hoehn
Thursday, September 20, 2018

Armed with chain saws, deep appreciation and a give-back spirit, about 50 tree care specialists and other volunteers donated their expertise and energy to maintain and beautify historic Wood National Cemetery.

The pruning, sawing, chopping and wood-chipping throughout the 50-acre Wood National Cemetery on the grounds of the Milwaukee VA Medical Center on Sept. 19 was part of the fourth annual “Saluting Branches: Arborists United for Veteran Remembrance.”

“It all stemmed from one event that took place at Fort Snelling in Minneapolis,” said Lee Fredericks, territory manager for Rainbow Treecare, the company that started Saluting Branches. “Now four years later, this has spun into 54 National Veterans Cemeteries throughout the country. Collectively, we’ve had more than 5,000 volunteers involved in this in the last four years.”

Most of the volunteers at Wood National Cemetery came from tree service companies from the greater Milwaukee area and southeast Wisconsin. Most of the companies also donated use of their own equipment – lifts, trucks, wood chippers, saws and safety equipment.

A tree care volunteer walks through Wood National Cemetery

Volunteer tree care specialists from several area companies spent the entire work day at the cemetery. (photo by Benjamin R. Slane)

To maximize the work time, the grounds were scouted ahead of time and trees that needed attention.

“We identified what work needed to be completed, prioritized that based on a safety and hazard standpoint, and starting at the top of that list and working our way down, “ Fredericks said. “This is only limited to a one-day event – if it was a week-long event, we could keep all 50 of these people busy for five days straight.”

Joanne Edmundson, an Air Force Veteran, is the office manager at Wachtel Tree Service, but was sporting an orange hard hat, safety goggles and work gloves.

“I was hanging out with one of our arborists and he knows I’m a Vet, so he thought this something I would be interested in, even though I can’t do the tree work,” said Edmundson, who also recruited a couple friends to help. “They’re always looking for someone to help drag brush, and anybody can drag brush. For me, I love the military. I want to what I can to help. I’m not serving anymore, so I want to serve in other ways.”

Two volunteers haul away a downed tree.

Arborists trimmed some trees and cut down others as part of the Saluting Branches day at Wood National Cemetery.

Bill Janowski, cemetery foreman, said most of the work done by the tree care specialists and arborists is beyond what the cemetery staff can do, or is allowed to do. As such, the work would have to be contracted out, which Janowski estimated at about $35,000.

“There’s going to be some interesting things going,” Janowski said. “They do tree injections, ground injection and they’re obviously doing some trimming. The trees that they’re dropping are dangerous. But watching these guys, I’ve seen them work before, watching a professional work and doing a good job is something to see. It’s truly amazing.’

Volunteers included a group of students from the arboricultural program at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha.

“The cool thing is the students can come out, help out the community and learn while doing it,” said Aaron Schauer, an instructor and the program director. “Here, they have a chance to work with how many professionals right now? And network, and get to meet these folks that maybe they would be able to get a job with.

“And, to volunteer and help out the Veterans, obviously it goes without saying, means a lot to all of us, and the students, too,” said Schauer, who said his brother is a 22-year Army Veteran who spent four tours overseas. “What they give and what I know it does to families is incredible. It’s an honor to be able help out on the grounds around where those that have given everything lay, it’s a phenomenal opportunity.”

Photo Gallery - View more photos from the 2018 Saluting Branches day at Wood National Cemetery in our flickr album


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