Gift Trees

How Gift Trees Helped Make
a Birthday More Special

Family members chose to celebrate the 90th birthday of Byrle Gross in a unique way - one that will endure for generations to come.

The family's gift to Gross is a gift of every visitor at the YMCA Trails West Camp in Scottsbluff, Neb. To mark the special occasion, they planted and distributed 90 trees in honor of Gross.

"It was unbelievable," Gross said. "It was such a thoughtful, thoughtful surprise. This is something everybody can enjoy, and it's a gift that will last long into the future. I can't be happier about it."

Credit for Gross's unique birthday gift goes to his granddaughter, Karla Jensen of Lincoln, Neb. Jensen, a professor at Nebraska Wesleyan University, spent weeks trying to come up with a perfect present for her grandfather. A former student mentioned planting trees, and the plan blossomed from there.

Jensen contacted the Arbor Day Foundation, and purchased 89 gift trees for the celebration. Those trees will either be planted at the YMCA Trails West Camp or at the homes of family members. They purchased a 12-foot-tall cottonwood tree - "Grandpa's tree" - from ABC Nursery in Scottsbluff that was the first tree to be planted at the camp’s new tree trail. The family planted the tree at the head of the trail.

"These trees will be a great tribute to Grandpa," Jensen said. "You can plant trees for any occasions, and it's such a unique way to celebrate a special time. Once we started talking about planting trees, we all became inspired to do it."

All told, more than 50 trees will gradually make their home at the YMCA Trails West Camp. The seedlings will be taken care of by Jim Neuwirth of ABC Nursery until they are large enough to be transplanted along the trail.

The family tree-planting event inspired Gross. As the family was leaving the camp, Gross dropped a hint about what he would like to do for his 100th birthday.

"He told everybody to save the date on their calendars 10 years from now and we would all get together and plant more trees," Jensen said. "He said the trees we planted would provide a lot more shade then, and we would all have a good time planting even more trees."

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