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Washington Voices

Tree becomes part of The Susie Forest

Thu., April 19, 2012, midnight

It’s not every day you get to see Batman help plant a tree. But on April 10, Batman – aka Jack Kelnhofer, age 4 – hefted a shovel and scattered some dirt over a newly planted tree at the Shadle Library. It was the 199th tree in The Susie Forest in Spokane County.

He carefully printed his name, BATMAN, on a biodegradable tree-gram. He would have stayed longer, but preschool beckoned.

“It’s Tuesday,” he explained as he tossed his cape and ran off toward the parking lot.

Jack and his mom, Jodi Kelnhofer, had heard about the tree-planting while attending storytime at the library.

Library patrons voted on which type of tree to plant, and they chose a dawn redwood. The tree is one of 300 planted around the world as a living legacy to Susie Stephens.

Stephens, a 1983 Lewis and Clark High School graduate, was a passionate environmentalist, bicyclist and activist who was struck by a bus and killed in 2002 while crossing the street in a crosswalk in St. Louis.

Her mother, retired librarian Nancy MacKerrow, planted three trees in Stephens’ honor in 2003, and from there the forest grew. “We’re going to cover the world with The Susie Forest,” MacKerrow said.

Locally, MacKerrow works with Reforest Spokane, Spokane Urban Forestry, the Lands Council and the Spokane Conservation District to target areas in need of trees.

With the exception of trees planted on Stephens’ birthday and the anniversary of her death, every tree in The Susie Forest is associated with someone or something else. Some commemorate the birth of a child, some celebrate library reading programs and others honor the life of someone who has died.

MacKerrow said The Susie Forest “has been a wonderful life-saving thing for me.”

At the tree planting she shared pictures of her daughter. Each one depicted Susie with arms outstretched in celebration. MacKerrow also showed the small crowd several maps denoting the location of The Susie Forest trees. Stephens loved to travel, and trees have been planted in her name in countries such as New Zealand, Iran and Japan.

Batman wasn’t the only guest to write a tree-gram. Other guests penned notes and hung them from the tree. One said, “All is well. Life is joy.” Another said, “May many people enjoy reading a good book under this tree.” And another simply said, “Peace.”

MacKerrow handed out spicy peppernut cookies someone dubbed “tree kibble.” She and her daughter discovered the cookies at Expo ’74.

The wind came up, and the bare branches of the dawn redwood shuddered in the breeze, the tree-grams twirling from its limbs.

Among the messages was a laminated bookmark featuring a photo of Stephens astride a bike, and her words, “If you don’t like where you are, pedal.”

“Every time I plant a tree, I feel Susie’s approval,” MacKerrow said. “It keeps her out in the world where she should be. If I can’t have Susie, this is the next best thing.”

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