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A Tree Grows In Champaign

Today is National Arbor Day, and folks are generally encouraged to go out and plant trees and some such. I'm all for it. While I enjoy living in a moderately urban environment, the fact that it is suffused with so many trees is something to treasure. To that end, I am today reminded of Mildred Sims, my teacher for both second and third grades, and the tree our class planted in Clark Park many moons ago.

From 1983 to 1985, Millie Sims was not only my teacher, but an adult whom I looked up to (both figuratively and literally). She was smart, fun, warm but knew how to keep her distance, and had a supremely endearing personality. She is to date the only person to have gotten me to eat celery (by smearing peanut butter in the hollow of the stick, placing raisins on it, and calling it 'Ants on a Log'). She brought local weather celebrity Judy Fraser to our class one day to discuss meteorology, which I thought was one of the coolest things ever.

Mrs. Sims made such an impression on me that, a year or so after I'd been in her class, I decided to have her be the focus of a paper about important people in our lives. She graciously came over to our modest abode on Draper St., and sat with me at the desk in my room while I did my best impression of an interviewer. The paper ended up being one of many selected for a program at the Champaign Public Library, where we stood at a podium and read them aloud. The local news was there, which about blew my mind.

One of the years I had Mrs. Sims -- can't remember whether it was during 2nd or 3rd grade -- she decided that our class should plant a tree in Clark Park, located just a few blocks from Westview Elementary School. Perhaps it was even for Arbor Day? We're talking thirty years ago, so the memory fades. At any rate, I wasn't all that jazzed about it, but the experience of it changed all that, resonating with me to this day.

Something about handling a tender sapling, unbagging it, gently extending its roots so that they would grow in the proper manner, each of us taking turns shoveling dirt to make the hole for our tree to reside in and, finally, listening to Mrs. Sims recite a few words about the importance of trees and why we were planting one, really impacted my young mind. These days, whenever visiting Clark Park, I walk over to the general area of where we planted the tree and look for it. We left no marker for it.. It simply resides there, one of many trees in the park, planted with affection by some kids and their beloved teacher.

I'm not sure where Mrs. Sims is at these days. The most recent mention I could find online for her was from January 2014, where she was featured in a story in the local paper, learning how to use an iPad and other technology. If karma exists, then hopefully her teacher was an excellent one. Only the best for Millie Sims.

I think I'll go look for that tree today.


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