Kett guests pine the loss of tree removed for safety

For half a century, a voluminous white pine tree graced the main entrance of Kettunen Center, the Michigan 4-H Foundation’s conference center near Tustin, Michigan.

Tree out front of the Kettunen Center entrance.
Last year the tree near the main entrance at Kettunen Center had to be removed due to safety concerns.

For half a century, a voluminous white pine tree graced the main entrance of Kettunen Center, the Michigan 4-H Foundation’s conference center near Tustin, Michigan. However, last year the tree, which existed long before the center was built, had to be removed because of safety concerns.

“As the tree grew, branches and limbs grew too large. It stretched and created cracks in the middle of the tree, which over time interferred with its integrity,” said Chris Gentry, Kettunen Center director.

Wood from the tree has been used in table centerpieces and for firewood, and it continues to be reused and recycled – one of the core missions of Kettunen Center.

Roy Davis has been coming to Kettunen Center since 1989, first as a high school student and for the past 14 years as the St. Johns band director.

“I was sad to see something that had been there longer than me. I had gone by it over a hundred times and I didn’t miss it until it was gone.”

Davis collected fallen needles and pine cones from the tree and hopes to produce a seedling that could potentially be planted at Kettunen Center in the future. He also presented Kettunen Center director Chris Gentry with a framed photo of the tree.

“I didn’t know if they had a photo of the tree,” Davis said. “I wanted to make sure, so I took a picture – freezing the moment in time, essentially keeping the memory alive.”

Ultimately, Davis felt the tree represented something more.

“I think about all the people who passed that tree, people who enjoyed its shade,” Davis said. “That tree had seen things you will never know. It had a legacy.

“Trees are very symbolic to me,” Davis said. “I try to plant a tree on my own property each year. We’ve had a few students of band pass away, and we’ve planted trees in their memory. The most helpful thing you can do is plant a tree and provide shade for others.

“I feel like trees are subjected to so much – they’re like kids – they’re subjected to their environment, and their environment affects their growth.”

The St. Johns band has held its summer band camp at Kettunen Center for the past 40 years, making the group one of the longest term users of the facility.

“The band has always gone to Kettunen Center, so we continue to go there – we would never change,” Davis said. “There are great trails, a commitment to progress – they are updating all the time. Plus, I think they have the same commitment to the environment as I do.

“The number one reason we return is the people – Kettunen Center has an outstanding staff,” he said. “It also has the opportunity for us to be the only band on campus, and they have all the accommodations with everything we need.”

“Some kids may not get the opportunity to travel,” he said. “Band camp helps develop skills for kids to learn to live with others for a week. It’s a precursor for those who may go on to college. It’s almost like dorm life.

“I also have an emotional tie – I love band. The connection at Kettunen Center brings me back to my youth when life was simpler. It’s just a really good place.”

Kettunen Center opened in 1961 and is a full-service conference center owned and operated by the Michigan 4-H Foundation. Although the center is the primary site for Michigan 4-H youth, volunteer and professional development training, other organizations such as church groups, band camps and other youth-serving organizations have become regular Kettunen Center guests.

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