McMINNVILLE -- A crash that shook the ground startled much of the
It took only seconds to find the heartbreaking cause.
The Old Oak (shown in a photo from the 1969 Oak Leaves on this page), which stood majestic when Linfield was founded 150 years ago, had fallen. Efforts to preserve the white oak -- to keep the 80-foot-tall tree standing a few more years -- had failed.
No one was hurt, although many gathered in sadness through the afternoon to stare at the fallen tree.
"It's that point that people look at with a lot of affection," said college spokeswoman Mardi Mileham.
The tree was estimated at 200 to 250 years old and was described by the first settlers to the valley. It grew alone, a short distance from the college’s oak grove, and its branches spread wide.
The Old Oak was mature when Pioneer Hall opened in 1882, the first building on the new campus of
Commencements were celebrated for decades near the shade of the Old Oak. It stood over weddings and memorial services.
But its decline became evident in recent years as the overall health of the tree declined.
“You could just tell,” said John Hall, a botanist and the college’s senior director of facilities. “You looked at the tree and saw how much dead wood accumulated each year. I knew the tree was on its way out, but that doesn’t mean anything. It could last another 20 years.”
Over the summer, a consultant examined the tree and found an infestation of carpenter worms, a sign the tree’s overall health was failing.
The tree was labeled a “hazard” since a branch would fall at any time. But cables gave it new support and pruning changed the weight load. For many years, an iron post anchored in concrete in the lawn beneath the tree helped support one of the oak’s large low limbs. See smaller photo with this story.
Crews planned to move the senior bench -- made of concrete and placed under the tree 60 years ago -- to discourage people from getting too close.
During heavy winds Friday, Hall watched the Old Oak stand strong.
“I was pretty confident that this tree – hey it’s going to be OK,” he said.
There was no strong wind on Tuesday. Nor snow. Just light rain was falling Tuesday afternoon and no wind to explain the sudden collapse of the bellowed oak. “Incredible,” onlookers said as they gaped at the dome-shaped base of the tree, where spongy, rotten wood was visible.
“Someone told me it fell over, and my heart just went into my stomach,” Hall said.
He rushed to the tree. The roots, exposed, were like pulp.
Light rain was falling Tuesday afternoon, but there was no wind to explain the sudden collapse of the bellowed oak. “Incredible,” onlookers said as they gaped at the dome-shaped base of the tree, where spongy, rotten wood was visible.
The tree fell on the senior bench, pushing it into the wet ground but not destroying it. The painted words of the class of 2007 on the bench were visible: “Oh, the places you’ll go,” from Dr. Seuss.
There had been plans to save acorns and root cuttings, to try to genetically keep the tree alive. Now, Hall and others hope the tree will send up roots in the spring.
University president Thomas L. Hellie requested the wood be saved. How the wood will be used hasn’t been decided. In the past, the college has had fallen branches from the Old Oak fashioned into mementos and sports awards.
For many alumni, the Old Oak is a fixed, fond memory.
Ryan (class of 1998) and Kelly (class of 2000) Carlson of
“My wife called and said, ‘The tree fell,’” Ryan Carlson said. “It’s a symbol for all things Linfield. It was majestic. Just a beautiful tree.”
Ryan Carlson is a second-generation
“Linfield is more than a tree,” he said. “But when you lose something that’s symbolic for a college it does hit home.”
:::This is an edited version of a story by Abby Haight which appeared in the