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KC's Champion of Trees

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Published on: Dec. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 27, 2010

"One winter day around 1962 I was going through my file and I ran across it and I started checking some of these trees," Brasher recalls. "When I checked all 100 trees, there were only 44 or 45 left. They were taken out for various reasons - development, disease, storms, lightning."

Indeed, time and progress were taking their toll. With the help of many others, he set out to update the inventory. The list covered Jackson and Clay counties in Missouri and Johnson and Wyandotte on the Kansas side. Each arboreal giant was verified and tagged as a champion. By 1990, the list included some 140 specimens. One of them was a former national champion rock elm, with a girth of more than 11 feet and a height of 110 feet, originally tagged by McLane.

The list was more than just a pastime for a band of tree lovers. "I know three or four different times when people have contacted me after seeing the label and it saved the tree," Brasher remarks. "Once contractors building an apartment complex found a sugar maple that was over 100 years old. They moved the building to save the tree."

In 1972, about a year after McLane died, Brasher helped establish an arboretum to honor him. It was to be a showplace for trees in the heart of the city. With Brasher as their first chairman, arboretum supporters settled on Loose Park as the location.

Thousands of residents visit the lush park each year. Joggers, picnickers and bird watchers are just a few of those who enjoy its solitude and greenery. Arboretum supporters have added hundreds of trees to the park's rolling landscape.

The Loose Park arboretum was aptly where some of the city's best-known green thumbs gathered in the summer of 1996 for a ceremony to honor the soft-spoken Brasher. Included in the crowd was Conservation Department urban forester Jerry Monterastelli, who told onlookers that Brasher became his mentor when he first came to the city more than 20 years ago.

Well wishers planted a swamp white oak sapling, Brasher's favorite among trees in the park, in his honor. "Quercus bicolor," Brasher called out as he admired the sapling. It wasn't a boastful show of knowledge. He just wanted to hear the tree's lyrical Latin species name said aloud.

Just as he was about to begin shoveling dirt on to the sapling, Brasher looked at the mound already on it. "It's too much soil for this tree," he said to no one in particular. A good tree man couldn't let such a thing go by - even with a large crowd looking on.

Now in semi-retirement, Brasher remains an advocate for trees. Developers in greater Kansas City call on him for advice on saving or replacing trees at construction sites. In this way he has influenced a number of developments, including some upscale building projects.

As he drives around the city, Brasher still sees building sites where every tree in sight has been dozed down and stacked like cord wood. Still, he finds it encouraging that some are taking a more enlightened approach. "Some developers are setting an example for others of how to do it right," he says.

Once you get to know Brasher, you learn that over the years he's influenced everyone from homeowners to public officials. And he has used that clout to drive home a message that he's honed down to a simple adage: "Only God can make a tree, but he put us here as custodians."

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