Two red oaks standing a tall 7 feet outside Betty Beck's home are destined to withstand long days of direct Mid-Missouri sunlight in summers ahead, but they'll always stand in the shadow of the two towering oaks they replace.
"They were huge — couldn't reach around them. Even my grandson and I couldn't meet hands," Beck said. "Over 100 years old, I would assume — because they were huge when we moved here, and I've been here 48 years."
Just yards from the straw-covered holes left when the original oaks fell across Tanner Bridge Road after the May 22 tornado, staff from the Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department tucked mulch around the freshly planted trees Thursday that hopefully will stand another 100 years as the city's Parks Department, Missouri Department of Conservation and Forest ReLeaf of Missouri offered hundreds of trees to local residents impacted by the tornado.
Like several of her neighbors and so many across Jefferson City and surrounding areas, Beck withstood tornado damage that included broken windows and roof damage beyond repair, but she's grateful the damage stopped there.
"I was very fortunate," she said Thursday as volunteers from the Capital and Bittersweet garden clubs guided people through rows of redbuds, birches and tupelos in her front yard. "I mean, what I lost that couldn't be replaced are the trees. That's the worst part."
Emily Park's family also lost the roof on their home near Heritage Highway. She picked up an oak and a black gum tree Thursday.
"We have 6 acres, so we lost a lot of trees," Park said. "We have a place that lost all its shading, so for the kids, we're getting an oak tree — it's the fastest growing, and it grows the biggest."
Those wanting fast growth to replace large trees were directed to red and Shumard oaks or river birch. A slower-growing option, black gum (or tupelo) was a popular choice for its promise of showy fall color. Smaller options included redbud and Eastern wahoo trees.
"They are all native to Missouri," Wallace said. "They can take our hot weather, cold weather, wet weather, drought. They're native here. Some of the trees we planted in North Jeff City a few years ago weren't native, and in the flood, they all died — our native stuff all survived."
In Jefferson City's public parks, maintenance staff plant two trees for every one they have to remove. Their benefits are that important, according to Wallace.
"Air quality, water quality, shade, energy savings in winter, privacy — there's just so many things you can list, and it's going to be a long time before we get a lot of that back," he said.
Hadley Stonner took two Shumard oaks Thursday after losing eight to the tornado in his Mesa Avenue backyard. He misses them for the wildlife they attracted and the privacy they provided.
"We used to not see the high school from our house," Stonner said. "Now that those trees are down, we can see the football stadium lights at night." He added with a laugh: "I guess if I had some binoculars I could watch the games."
And Stephanie Dake packed two redbuds into her backseat, intended to help regrow a sense of home where her son lost his home near Heritage Highway.
"He has a 4-year-old daughter, and I thought it would be good for her to plant one," Dake said.
Just over four months since the tornado, now is the best time to plant trees, Wallace said, as they put on the most root growth in the fall.
With proper care — water right after planting and about once a week in the absence of rain (but don't overwater) — it might not be long before Jefferson Citians can look out their front windows to a more familiar treeline.
"Give them 10 years," Wallace said. "Take downtown Jeff City: We planted those trees 15 years ago, and they're all pretty good-sized right now — and they're in a downtown setting where there's not a lot of area for root growth, they don't get a lot of water, yet they thrive there somehow. I think you get trees in a nice, open lawn, put them in the ground, water them every so often, take care of them, don't hit them with the weed eater or lawn mower, and they should do OK."
More trees will be distributed today in Eldon, as the Conservation Department partners with the city of Eldon and the Eldon Garden Club. Recipients must present a driver's license, photo ID or recent utility bill to be eligible for free trees at this event, scheduled from 1-7 p.m. today and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.
JC Parks plans to host another tree giveaway next spring at Hickory Park near Jackson Street.