The Borough would like to recognize the hard work of Gary Odenbrett and the members of the Wenonah Shade Tree Commission, along with many community organizations, donors, local businesses and corporate sponsors, who helped provide and install 17 new shade trees along the clear zone in front of Wenonah Elementary School. We thank you for your dedication to the beauty of our community and your investment in the lives and experience of future generations of Wenonah children. The 17 trees were planted on Thursday, November 9th and a recognition ceremony was held on Friday, November 17th.

Below you can read the full remarks delivered by Gary Odenbrett at the recognition ceremony:

Good afternoon and welcome to the Wenonah Elementary School. 

Today we are gathered to thank all those community organizations, family, local business, and corporate donors who provided financial support to our school tree planting project. 

Thursday November 9th was a beautiful sunny day when months of planning brought together the goodwill of so many to plant 17 new trees in the clear zone in front of our beloved elementary school. 

Looking back, September 1, 2021, was a day that will be remembered forever for residents of our small community. An F3 tornado roared through town unleashing devastating destruction to our homes, businesses and much of our extensive tree canopy. 

Since then, the residents have gathered their spirit, shovels, and sense of community to restore our beautiful Wenonah Park and help plant hundreds of new trees on streets throughout town. 

The Wenonah Shade Tree Commission was blessed with financial support from so many who contributed to the Wenonah Tree Planting Go Fund Me Acct created by Volunteer of the Year Sarah Harbold. Countless residents from diverse community support organizations dug holes, corralled trees, and spread mulch as we focused much of our efforts to restore trees on streets most impacted by the storm.  

For all our efforts there remained one community building which was formerly surrounded by epic oaks, sycamores, and maples – and whose loss of trees was like the loss of a loyal friend. It became a mission of the shade tree commission to bring back the trees around this school which formerly acted like a blanket of warmth and color- season in and season out. 

The school’s tree planting journey of recovery was brought to life by a grant offering from the Arbor Day Foundation. That foundation is the author of the Tree City USA program for which Wenonah has been awarded 27 years of certification. The grant wished to assist those towns most impacted by a natural disaster where loss of trees would not mean loss of hope. 

The Arbor Day Foundation reaches out to corporate donors who join hands with communities – financially but also with in person labor assistance on the day of planting. This joint financial support from Dollar General and the Arbor Day Foundation provided seed money to begin this project and convinced many others to join hands with Wenonah in our recovery efforts. 

On that day 11 Dollar General employees made their way to Wenonah to help with planting and 5 Shade tree members supervised while getting their hands dirty with everyone else. Sean Bailey from Dollar General is with us here today. 

It was a remarkable day of comradery, and we thank the employees and their company for their dedication to community outreach. 

Locally the search for funding came from local corporations and small businesses, family, and community organizations. These include : 

Exley’s Landscaping – a family-owned nursery with decades of service to the community who provided discounts on trees and services 

Thomas Foods International, USA Branch from Swedesboro, NJ – a family owned Australian meat and seafood supplier throughout the world. Christopher Lombroso, Sustainability Manager, is with us today along with Marketing Manager Kathryn Odenbrett whose leadership in guiding funds to this project was crucial. 

Ms. Krott- a 2nd grade teacher from Wenonah Elementary who somehow got lots of students to check the couch cushions at home and made a significant donation to the Wenonah Planting Fund. 

Wenonah American Legion – an organization dedicated to the memory, health and wellbeing of veterans and a major source of volunteer labor to the Shade Tree Commission under the leadership of John Forren. 

Sarah Harbold – one of the finest examples of civic volunteer service following the tornado raising close to $60, 000. through her Go Fund Me fundraising efforts. These funds enabled the Wenonah Park to rebound from destruction while supplying the Shade Tree Commission funds to restore our street canopy, 

Tree Awareness – Owned by Paul Biester a local tree service company who was the first to offer financial support after the tornado – a certified Tree expert and master arborist. 

The Jack Sheppard Jr. Family – whose long and rich tradition of service to the community was passed down by the father to the son. 

TimberCut Tree Service – Owner John VanDine’s donation of services in advance of planting day is on a long list of civic contributions to the Wenonah community by this local resident. 

I would like to thank the Wenonah School Board, Administrator Kristine Height and Operations Manager Tom O’Donnell for their support of this project and as always, the leadership of Mayor Jessica Doheny, our Boro Council and Brian Nicholson of Public Works. The Shade Tree Commission’s 9 member all volunteer force has been a pleasure to lead. 

In closing, Wenonah has always been a special place for me and my family – having married my wife in our backyard gardens and raising a son who attended this school. 

From playing with him on the school playground, shooting hoops on the basketball court, parent teacher conferences, school plays, all the way to watching his 6th grade class take a final class graduation picture on the original school steps – this building is etched into the fabric of my family.  

As with so many other families and their children our community looks upon this school as the centerpiece of learning which offers a lifetime of memories. 

May the trees just planted grow strong and healthy like the lives of so many children who have passed through its doors. 

There is a saying that goes: 

Blessed are those who plant trees under whose shade they will never sit. 

Speaking on behalf of the Wenonah Shade Tree members from the past to the present – living in and serving this community has been a blessing in and of itself.  

Gary Odenbrett- Wenonah Shade Tree Commission Chair