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End of an Icon

Fallen branches mean the end for EIU's iconic old oak tree.

The tree as it appeared in the summer of 2012.

Weather is not believed to be a contributing factor. Perhaps, just as a member of Eastern Illinois University’s grounds crew said, “It’s tired.”

For whatever the reason, sometime around 5 a.m. Friday (Aug. 8), a large portion of the decades-old bur oak standing east of the university’s administrative building (“Old Main”) broke away and fell to the ground. The order soon came from President Bill Perry to remove the tree entirely.

Workers had a big job on their hands clearing away branches of the huge tree.
All that currently remains.

“During the spring walk-around on campus, Dr. Perry told us to take it down when it became unsafe,” said Tim Zimmer, director of Facilities Planning and Management. “As a result of these downed limbs, we’ll be taking (the tree) down to the stump today.”

Zimmer went on to say that the removal crew will salvage whatever wood they can, with some cross sections preserved for historical purposes. Additional sections have already been given to Eastern’s Department of Biological Sciences for research.

“We’ll just have to see what condition the rest of the wood is in before we make further decisions,” he added.

For decades, the tree -- estimated to be between 250 and 300 years old as evidenced by its 61-inch trunk -- has provided shade and shelter to students at work and at play. Hundreds of homecoming courts, floats and bands have gathered near it, readying themselves for participation in the annual fall parades. Romances have blossomed; friendships have flourished. The tree is as much a fixture on campus as its nearest building – the “castle.”

Some take solace in the fact that the tree will live on via its offspring. Approximately 50 acorns were collected directly from branches of the old oak in the fall of 2011. They were planted in pots with nutrient-enriched compost and the pots, in turn, were stored in a protected campus area where deer and rabbits couldn’t get to them.

A year later, the university had about 30 seedlings. The university considered that a “good return” on what had been planted.

“And the saplings are still doing well,” Zimmer said. “They’ve done especially fine during this nice, mild summer.”

For more on Eastern’s favored tree, see here.

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