Red maple tree dedicated in police dog's memory

PAXTON — A red maple tree planted on the west side of the Paxton Police Department headquarters was dedicated on Arbor Day in memory of Max, the agency’s first police dog.

Mayor Bill Ingold gave a brief speech to a small crowd of city employees on hand, including Max’s former handler, officer Chad Johnson, as well as members of Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School’s FFA chapter.

Ingold explained that the city each Arbor Day chooses one tree to plant in a “special place to honor a special member of our community,” and “this year our honoree only has one name, Max.”

“Max was a yellow lab dog, but he wasn’t just a dog,” Ingold said. “Max was a police officer for the city of Paxton.

“He started out as a seeing-eye dog, but his trainers felt he was more suited for police work. He was a certified tracker, and it was his nose that set him apart. He was instrumental in sniffing and finding illegal drugs, and many law enforcement agencies called on Max and his partner, Chad Johnson, in their efforts to stop the traffic of illegal drugs.

“Max served the city for six or seven years, and it was health issues that forced his retirement. He continued living with his handler and friend, Chad Johnson, and the Johnson family until Max’s death earlier this year.

“It is an honor to dedicate this tree to the memory of Max and for his service to the city of Paxton.”

Friday morning’s Arbor Day observance fulfilled part of the requirements of the city garnering Tree City USA status for the 29th straight year. In addition to holding an observance each Arbor Day, to be recognized as a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation a city must have a “tree board” or department responsible for the care of all trees on city-owned property; have a tree care ordinance; and have a community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita.

According to Ingold, Illinois ranks third in the U.S. for Tree City USA participants, only behind Ohio and Wisconsin.

“In 2015, in Illinois Tree City USA communities spent over $95 million to plant trees, care for trees and remove those trees damaged by the emerald ash borer,” Ingold said.

Ingold said the city just finished planting 20 trees around Paxton in the last few weeks and will be planting more this fall.

“Trees are important for many reasons,” Ingold said. “They are important for shade to help in cooling in the summer and protecting our homes in the winter. Leaves are actually air cleaners, reducing harmful carbon dioxide and replacing it with oxygen. And they provide shelter for wildlife, slow rainfall runoff, prevent soil erosion, muffle noise and provide privacy. Overall, trees add beauty and grace to our community setting and make life more enjoyable.”

After Ingold’s speech, Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School FFA chapter members spoke about the history of Arbor Day and about the red maple tree planted in Max’s memory.

FFA member Mikayla Jones said Arbor Day first took place on April 10, 1872. It was created by Julius Sterling Morton, a Nebraska journalist and politician who was originally from Michigan.

“He made Arbor Day to promote replanting following deforestation, and to plant up treeless areas,” Jones said. “The idea has spread widely to other lands, where it is variously celebrated as ‘The Festival of Trees,’ ‘Greening Week’ in Japan, ‘The New Year’s Day of Trees’ in Israel, ‘The Tree-Loving Week’ in Korea, ‘The Reforestation Week’ in Yugoslavia, ‘The Students Forestation Day’ in Iceland and ‘The National Festival of Tree Planting’ in India. Arbor Day in its various forms is now recognized in more than 50 countries. The dedication of one day each year to tree planting with fitting ceremonies has grown in popularity.”

FFA member Joey Chickini said the red maple tree — acer rubrum — is a deciduous tree that typically grows 40 to 60 feet tall with a rounded to oval crown. In northern states, the red maple usually occurs in wet bottomland, river flood plains and wet woods, but in the South, it typically frequents drier, rocky upland areas. Its leaves are shiny green above, and pale green beneath. It has red flowers in dense clusters in late March or early April before its leaves appear, red fruit, reddish stems and twigs, red buds and, in the late fall, orange-red foliage color.

“The red maple is one of the best named of all trees,” Chickini said. “There is something red in all seasons — buds in winter, flowers in spring, leafstalks in summer and brilliant foliage in autumn. This pageant of color, along with the tree’s relatively fast growth and tolerance to a wide range of soils, makes it a widely planted favorite.”

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