Eat, drink to help to support Needham arboretum

I graduated from Needham Elementary School in 1984 with a degree in “being a kid.” I am pretty sure I graduated at the top of the class, although when everyone received the same degree, there really wasn’t a bottom.

Needham was where my sister and I, as well as my father (maybe it was a one-room school back then, with a bell and slates – not sure, no photos for documentation) went to school. It now is where my daughter, a third-grader, and my son, a kindergartener, also go. So in three generations, we Parmenters have seen a lot of changes. The cafeteria still seems to have the same tables, but the food now frequently consists of local beef, vegetables and fruit in the fall. They serve food grown in the school garden.

The classrooms haven’t changed much, but while I occasionally gazed absent-minded at chalkboards and overhead projectors, our kids are becoming familiar with computers, smart boards and document cameras.

When my sister and I (as well as my father) attended Needham, our principal was Walt Mason. An imposing figure, Principal Mason was well-respected, but I rarely spoke to him, and a trip to the principal’s office frequently was met with sweaty palms and shaky knees. Or so I heard.

Elena and Asher – and thousands of students before them – are fortunate to have Pete Harter as their principal, and even though a few students inevitably will dread the walk to the principal’s office, the vast majority will relish the thought of a handshake, a head-pat, a hug or a conversation with Principal Harter. He seems to know everyone’s name, their parent’s names and even the names of the siblings who are too young to attend Needham.

And apparently, he also likes trees. In 2011, Peter Schertz, who probably is one of the most enthusiastic volunteers I have ever met, and other parents and teachers established The Pete Harter Arboretum with seven trees and financial assistance from Colorado Tree Coalition, Durango School District 9-R, the city of Durango and several businesses and nonprofit organizations. The “Trees are the Answer” project has a mission to continue to plant trees and conduct educational programs at the Needham Elementary School campus.

Unfortunately, we haven’t come up with trees that grow money, so this year with the “Trees and Root Beer are the Answer” campaign, Carver’s Restaurant generously is donating its space and a percentage of proceeds from a fundraising dinner from 4 p.m. until closing today. The dinner will help support and expand The Pete Harter Arboretum and supportive community members may enjoy all items off the entire menu in addition to the showcased specials of root beer-braised ribs and root beer floats.

This arboretum is truly something unique and impressive. It is not too often that you see something like this associated with an elementary school. But in order for these trees to benefit the community, the arboretum needs the support of the community.

Kids and trees and Principal Harter – that’s a combination that’s hard to beat. or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.

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