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For Gerhartz, retirement blooms with a Japanese Lilac

david gerhartz, retirement, city of owatonna
David Gerhartz checks up on the Japanese Lilac tree that has been planted at Brooktree Golf Course for his retirement from the City of Owatonna. He worked in the forestry department for 38 years. His house is located across the street from the tree. Staff photo by Rick Bussler
Rick Bussler, Publisher
“My favorite part of the job was taking care of the trees.”
-David Gerhartz, Retired City Worker

Enjoying the tree planted in his honor after serving the City of Owatonna for nearly four decades won’t be hard for David Gerhartz. All he needs to do is look at his living room window to see the tree or walk across the street.

Gerhartz chose to plant his “retirement tree” near the 18th hole of Brooktree Golf Course in Owatonna. He happens to live right across the street.

“This way I’ll be able to keep an eye on it and enjoy it,” said Gerhartz in describing why he chose to plant the tree where he did. “I can walk right by it and smell it.”

His choice for the tree was a Japanese Lilac, native to eastern Asia, which is grown as an ornamental in Europe and North America. Gerhartz expects the tree will reach at least 15 feet. “They usually grow one foot a year,” he said, adding he plans to water it at least once a week for the first year.

The tree was planted on Arbor Day in April. This year there were two retirees from the city: Gerhartz and Rick Hafstad of the park and rec department. Hafstad planted his tree in Central Park.

Trees have been Gerhartz’s area of expertise for many years. In addition to working as an arborist in the city’s forestry department for 38 years before retiring last fall, he also operates his own tree care business.

“I’ve been into trees for a long time,” he said. “My favorite part of the job was taking care of the trees,” he added.

Asked why he’s so passionate about trees, Gerhartz said: “If you don’t keep up with them and plant them, the grand kids won’t have them. You have to think of future generations.”

During his time with the city, Gerhartz was among the crew members who manicured all the trees within the city. He has done his fair share of tree planting, stump removals, tree trimming and tree removals in parks, the golf course and boulevards. “I have removed some of the trees I planted,” he said.

Gerhartz said he most enjoyed planting trees and working with the public over the years. He estimated the city plants 50-75 trees every year with some years ending up being close to 100.

The most challenging times came in 1991 during the Halloween ice storm and the 2010 flood. “The ice storm was the worst,” he said, noting the city lost hundreds of trees from that single storm.

He credits the ice storm with propelling him into his own tree business. It had been going a few years prior, but the ice storm really made his business take off.

Handling large trees hasn’t always been easy for his wife, Sue. “You were climbing and dangling from a rope,” she said to David. He added, “I guess I made her nervous.”

Gerhartz provided a couple tips for maintaining healthy trees. He recommends watering them once a week, keep them trimmed and don’t hit the bark with the lawn mower.

Now that they have more time on their hands, David and Sue plan to enjoy their lake home on French Lake and six grandchildren.

And yes, there will be a little tree business mixed into retirement as well. At the very least he’ll be keeping an eye on the special tree planted in his honor across the street from his house.

“I’m going to make sure it’s well taken care of,” he said.

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