I thank Frank Schafter every time I walk or drive down my street in the fall, as I travel through an arbor of bright yellow leaves that seem lit from within by the autumn sun. I thank him again in the spring when the trees up and down my street show the first blossoms of a warm new season. Frank is one of my favorite neighbors, even though he left this area long before I moved in.
The homes in my neighborhood were built during the 1950s a series of small brick houses, all with similar floor plans and varying only in small details. People driving through the area now don't often realize how similar the houses are. Each family added their own landscaping, fences, porches, garages, add-ons, etc., as time went on, until the uniformity disappeared completely. Except for the trees. That's where Frank, the Johnny Appleseed of Lakeridge Subdivision, made his contribution.
Most of the people who bought these homes, including Frank, were young parents with a few children and very little money. They worked for the nearby copper mine and refinery and didn't have a lot of time or money for landscaping. They were grateful finally just to have their own homes.
But Frank had a vision. He arranged with a gardening store for a group rate of $1 each on young ash trees, then started persuading all his neighbors to buy and plant the trees along their parkways, not just on his own street, but on the next two over and the cross streets in between.
It wasn't easy, but Frank was persuasive. As he talked with reluctant neighbors he would share with them his vision of a neighborhood of shady, tree-lined streets. It must have been a little hard to picture in a new housing development comprised of barren rows of little brick boxes, most without lawn or flowers, but his enthusiasm was catching.
Eventually everyone agreed to purchase one or two trees to plant on their parkway. Frank showed them how to plant and care for the young trees, and nearly every tree survived. Now several streets running in each direction are lined with 40- and 50-foot-tall shade trees that are truly a monument to cooperation and patience.
I didn't move into the neighborhood until the 1990s, but I'm now familiar with Frank's story. He may be long gone from the area, but I'm not the only neighbor who still thanks him when the trees overshadow our houses on a hot summer day. All the old-timers here remember his work and are happy to share the story with us newcomers.
New housing developments are now springing up in the fast-growing areas in our valley. As I drive past clusters of new cookie-cutter houses, I see a few small trees appearing in the yards here and there. I'm always tempted to stop and talk to a few of the new occupants and tell them about Frank and his trees. Maybe one of them would be inspired to do the same thing for their neighborhood. And I consider the contributions I could be making to help my friends and neighbors, even contributions that may not see fruition for years or in my lifetime. There may be results that I never hear about at all.
I once mentioned to a young neighbor girl how pretty she looked on her way to her first day of junior high school. Later, that girl's mother told me that my remark had made her daughter feel beautiful at a time when she was feeling very insecure about herself. Does every little seed of kindness grow into something big and beautiful? Perhaps all it takes is a little thoughtfulness to be a Johnny Appleseed or a Frank Schafter.