Auburn begins new chapter with planting of oak trees

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Members of the Auburn Family cheered and applauded as two new live oaks were planted at Toomer's Corner on Feb. 14.

It was 23 degrees when Cathy Clark found her spot in front of Compass Bank at the corner of College Street and Magnolia Avenue, two hours before the first tree would arrive. She wanted a prime spot to witness the historic event, and the freezing temperatures weren't going to stop her.

A 38-year veteran of Auburn University, Clark said it was important for her to attend the tree planting, knowing how Auburn lost its famed oaks to poisoning more than four years ago.

"The corner looks so beautiful, but it was missing something. It was missing these trees," she said. "To see them put back is an emotional feeling. I almost cried.

"This is absolutely a new beginning for us."

Tears did stream down the face of Sylvia Majercik of Mobile as she recalled missing the last roll and the removal of the famed oaks.

"I have the opportunity to see the news ones planted and I'm going," she said. "This university is near and dear to my heart."

The 61-year-old is not an Auburn graduate, but her father was and he engrained his love for Auburn in her at a young age. Majercik's two daughters are alumnae and each married alums. She is optimistic her four grandchildren will become alumni as well someday.

"I'm hoping the planting of these trees helps me get rid of the bitterness and anger I feel over what happened to our trees," she said, tears rolling down her rosy red cheeks. "The trees are a symbol of the spirit of Auburn.

"We never lost our spirit, even when we rolled wires. We have an enduring spirit. With or without trees, we are still the Auburn Family."

Debbie and Aaron Drake of Auburn were among the families to spend some time at the corner. Debbie, a 2005 alumna, said it would be a "special time" for her children to be a part of, even if they are too young to understand the significance. Kaitlyn, 6, spent time with her dad who was taking pictures. David, 4, ran around the lawn in front of Hargis Hall, while Jacob, 10-months old, enjoyed just sitting on the lawn.

"This is where our children were born, where they are being raised. They know we are here for trees but they don't know why. I hope – 25, 30 years from now – they realize they were here for something special."

Cheri Hughes, a 2007 alumna, and Valerie Jones, a 2011 alumna, came down from Birmingham on Friday so they wouldn't miss the tree planting. They met up with Jones' cousins Kevin and Korey Jones, both undergraduate students.

"We were here for the National Championship and the last roll," said Kevin, a senior in computer engineering. "We might as well see the trees be put back."

"We lost a little bit of something with the trees gone," added Korey, a sophomore in nutrition science, who filmed the planting of the College Street tree. "Those oaks had been here for a long time, but hopefully these oaks are going to be here for a long time. And I can say that I was there when they were planted."

Valerie said she plans to take off of work when the new trees can be rolled in 2016.

"We will be out here for the first roll," she stressed.

In order to give the new live oaks adequate time to take root and acclimate to their new environment, Auburn fans are being asked to wait until fall 2016 before the tradition of rolling the trees can resume.

"It's always worth it when it comes to Auburn," said Hughes.

"We've got to make these trees last for my grandkids and their kids," added Majercik.

Connor Tidwell, 6, has been accompanying his parents, Warren and Jennifer, a 2004 alumna, to Toomer's Corner since he could walk. This day was no different.

Saturdays are Warren's one day to sleep in, but Connor said they had "to see the trees." Warren appeared surprised a large crowd showed up to watch the planting, but then again, he said it's a part of history for the university and community.

"The town and gown in Auburn is the best there is," he said.

Neither Jeff nor Robin Rudolph attended Auburn, but they traveled from Cadiz, Kentucky to bear witness. Robin, an Alabama fan, thought attending the tree planting would be a special Valentine's Day treat for Jeff, an Auburn fan.

"It was the least I could do for him," she said.

The couple was in Nashville on Friday and left at midnight to make it in time for the planting. They headed back to Kentucky after both trees were in place.

Auburn's new trees came from a nursery owned by MeadWestvaco in Ehrhardt, South Carolina. Both are approximately 35 feet tall with 30-foot spreads

The planting of the oaks is the final step in Phase I of the Samford Park renovation, which included enlarging the plaza and improving the landscaping near the corner. The second phase, slated to begin after A-Day in April, will feature the planting of 30 15-foot-tall trees – grown from acorns collected from the original oaks – between Toomer's Corner and Samford Hall.

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