RIVERSIDE – Many kids dream of growing up to be teachers, firefighters or even president, but none of those jobs are particularly interesting to Mary Hennelly.
The 10-year-old wants to be an arborist.
“I think it was around second grade,” she said, pinning down when she made the decision. “But my whole life. I’ve always been interested in trees.”
Mary was dismayed when she recently learned that many ash trees in Riverside had been cut down, or were going to be cut down, because of infestation by the Emerald Ash Borer. So, for her 10th birthday this year, she made a surprising request.
Instead of presents, she wanted her family donate money to plant a new tree in Riverside.
“It surprised us, and at first we weren’t sure if we would allow it,” said Mary’s mom, Lisa Hennelly. “We thought she would regret it but she didn’t.”
Mary even saved up some of her own money to add to the fund.
On a bright, sunny day in Riverside, Mary and her Ames School classmates sat and listened intently as the village’s forester explained some of the variety of trees they might find in town. They then planted Mary’s new tree – an Ironwood.
“I just want to say that I think it’s important what you did here,” Riverside tree expert Mike Collins told the kids. “It really helps me out.”
As the group of fourth-graders called out with a giggle – “Are you the Lorax?” – Collins obliged.
“Kind of,” he said. “But sometimes, I do have to cut down trees. It makes me sad, but sometime there’s a purpose.”
The students huddled, shouting rapid-fire questions at Collins for the Arbor Day celebration, which was Thursday at the triangle lawn in front of school.
As the village forester, Collins generally does a special presentation at the schools for Arbor Day.
“I think it’s really important to talk to them about it,” he said. “The biggest potential is to impart a value in our environment and landscape.”
What made this event so important this year, he said, was Mary’s contribution.
“I thought that since she bought this tree, we would use it to plant at her school,” Collins said. “When her mom told me about her not wanting presents, it just floored me. It was very cool.”
Now, Mary can see her gift all the time.
“I think we should give back to things that give back to us,” she said. “Trees give us oxygen and shade and sometimes they’re fun to climb in.”
It’s fun to think that when Mary returns for college one day nine years from now, she’ll be able to pass by her old school and see just how much she and the tree she planted as grown.
If she’s still studying to be an arborist, she’ll probably know how to its proper name, and in Latin, too.