The large 300-year old Red Oak tree had stood in front of Leo Bard’s family home his whole life, a strong and steady reminder of history, family and memories.
It was more than just a simple tree for Bard who remembers his mother using the huge oak as a landmark for directions, telling friends that when they came to the big tree with the swing, they were in the right spot.
And for centuries, the tree stood tall and strong, even as the world changed around it. Until this year when a light breeze took off the top, revealing the tree's age and end of life.
“Given the number of years that tree has lived and the number of years it had sustained insect damage and rot associated with it, it was simply its time,” Leo Bard said.
But just cutting it down and removing the tree that had become part of the home he had grown up in wasn’t an option. Instead, Bard decided to save what he could and turned it into a memorial.
Consulting with Emil Szkipala, a woodcarving artist with 20 years experience, Bard came up with a design that he says reflects his life, as well as the country's past and history.
“There’s a theme that runs through this thing,” Bard said.
An almost 3-D type depiction of eagles, the American flag and army boots resting inside the trunk of the tree now stands proudly transformed and honored for its years of service and endurance.
“It’s a design thing,” Bard said. “How to make the most out of all this tree was and is.”
Szkipala spent 10 days carving the intricate design into the wood and eventually, Bard says he will add color to some of the areas, including the American flag.
It's common now for passing drivers to stop for pictures and although Bard welcomes the photos and questions, he said he was actually unprepared for the attention it brought.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” he said gruffly. “Emil did great work. Every time I look at it, I get more excited."
Bard also saved the swing that once hung from the mighty Oak, one he remembers using as a young boy, spending hours there, growing up in its shadow.
And writing a dedication that will eventually be placed on the back of the tree, Bard says he may have "waxed eloquent" but the words say it all.
In 2012, this magnificent Red Oak which at the time of the American Revolution was already old, succumbed to natural processes.
In memory of our heroes then and now, this tree is dedicated.
Rendered by the artist
Milan Emil Szkipala 2012
Depending on the care, the tree could now stand for 100 more years, a proud symbol of heroes, dedication and history in Hartland.