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Magazine: Convention Seeds

A follow-up look at the four-year growth of two Black Hills Spruce trees gifted to state delegates at the 2016 National Convention.


At the 2016 Catholic Order of Foresters National Convention in Omaha, Nebraska, national convention delegates received Black Hills Spruce seedlings. Among the more than 150 delegates in attendance was Dan Schmitz, Youth Director of St. Mary 1234 in Waterloo, Iowa, and he had an idea for the young trees. Dan’s son Andy Schmitz, who is also a Catholic Order of Foresters member, is the Director of Horticulture and General Manager at Brenton Arboretum in Dallas Center, Iowa. Dan gave the seedlings to Andy to plant and nurture during the seeds’ nascent stage at the arboretum.

“Andy knows a lot about trees,” said Dan. “He took the spruces out to the arboretum and cared for them.”

Once the trees matured, Dan said, they would be re-planted at the home of his daughter, Bridget Pavelec, just outside Denver, Iowa. That was the plan, at least.

Growing up in central Iowa, Dan’s son Andy developed a passion for gardening, trees, and horticulture. “My grandfather, my dad’s dad, had a huge garden in town,” said Andy, describing his horticultural roots. “And I spent a lot of time walking around my grandmother’s garden talking about plants and flowers with her.”

Andy described coming to the realization that he could study horticultural science and make a career as a horticulturist. Andy was aware of horticultural science as a field of research, but it eventually dawned on him that, perhaps, it was his life calling.

“There’s a correct way to properly plant a tree,” said Andy, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Iowa State University’s Department of Horticulture. “Proper planting is critical to the overall sustainability of trees. Spruces need good drainage,” he explained. The department claims that “horticulture is the oldest profession.” 

 According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Black Hills Spruce tree, also known as the white spruce, is “native to upland areas and stream margins stretching from Alaska across the boreal forest of Canada to Newfoundland, dipping south to Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and New York.” This spruce species thrives in non-urban, rural settings with rich soil and full sun exposure. 

Both white spruce trees now reside at Andy’s sister’s home in Denver, Iowa, where, according to Andy, “They are going to be at least 40 or 50 feet tall.”

In northeast Iowa, somewhere along a rural road, the spruces will grow for years.

Article by Connor McEleney

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