By Jon Gambrell
The 22-foot white ash tree rustles, bare in the December wind.
The tree has seen its share of hardships and broken branches, the left side a little lower than the right. To Miami University, it is tree "BF724," one out of the hundreds around its shady campus. But to Miami employee Doug Sheldon, it is a metaphor for life.
"It always looks wounded and scarred," says Sheldon, the university's operations manager of graduate housing. "I look at it and connect to it."
Doug Sheldon of Hamilton is a long-time manager of Miami Manor, on Miami Campus in Oxford.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
The ash tree, next to Miami Manor, has survived two strong storms that felled others around it.
After a 1988 storm, Sheldon collected fallen twigs and gave them to students and others as a reminder for the difficulties and the hope in everyone's lives.
Today, Sheldon still does the same, estimating he's given out more than 1,000.
Miami Manor, which housed graduate and international students, is being "deconstructed" piece by piece to make way for eight new apartment-style dormitories. The project, at an estimated cost of $30 million, will force construction crews to take down several of the Manor's trees.
After Sheldon heard about the project, he called Miami Housing Dining and Guest Services vice president Adolph Haislar, fearing the ash tree would fall victim as well.
Haislar met with Sheldon, then examined the construction plans.
"I had one of those Rod Serling moments, because the trees to the left and right were X'ed to be taken down," he says. "I can't believe the tree survived without any conscious thought."
While the tree was spared in the planning and will be protected with fencing, the construction and soil moving at the project site could still eventually kill it.
No matter what happens, the tree has had a lasting influence on Sheldon's life.
"The tree has brought a lot of support and motivation," he says. "The roots of that tree run down into the dirt, the Earth, and it reminds me to keep humble."
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