Friendship Tree Planted

HHES friendship tree
By: Todd Martin
As trees go, the newly-planted one at the front of Harker Heights Elementary School is more of a bush set between the school’s marquee and a larger tree nearby.
But it’s no ordinary tree that the school’s horticulture club planted on Texas Arbor Day Friday and that Principal Carolyn Dugger explained to a gathering of students, staff and city leaders.
The Friendship Tree now growing at the front of the school is rooted deep in the history of the area’s agricultural past before the advent of Fort Hood and the city of Harker Heights.
It was 76 years ago Camp Hood was born on the rolling pastureland of Central Texas and landowners like Hack Sandefur made a habit of giving away bushes to friends to plant in the burgeoning Killeen area.
Ben Dugger who ran a real estate company planted the small trees around his business and the First Methodist Church, both in downtown Killeen at the time. Today, the trees continue to grow around town, including around the home of the late Dugger’s son and daughter-in-law, Jerry and Carolyn Dugger.
With Arbor Day approaching, it occurred to the elementary school principal this year to plant another tree outside the school with the help of the school’s active horticulture club. Harker Heights Mayor Spencer Smith read a proclamation prepared for the occasion.
As the story goes, Sandefur gave away trees and seeds as a show of respect and friendship to those he knew would care for the plants.
The new tree at the school is growing alongside a burr oak, planted in honor of Mary Odom when she retired following 42 years teaching at Harker Heights Elementary School. On Friday, Odom reminded those in attendance to “keep planting trees” as she scooped up a few oaks for planting.
The longtime sponsor of the school’s science club pointed out a tree close to the front door planted in memory of a student who passed away. She also checked up on the school’s “principal trees,” planted in honor of the school’s three former principals as well as Dugger.
Trees mark the history of the school, which first opened in 1964. School leaders planted trees in celebration of the school’s 40th and 50th anniversaries.
Today’s horticulture club, 25 second- through fifth-graders, are carrying on the tradition. Vegetables, herbs, perennials and succulents are part of the school’s gardens, visible from windows inside the building.
“Today has been about friendship and kindness and love and carrying that on,” said science teacher Theresa Rohaly, who sponsors the current horticulture club.
On one side of a windowed walkway, one can see the garden, with plants pushing out of a couple of varieties of beds.  On the other side of the walkway is the developing science learning center that will give students a chance to observe nature.
The learning center will eventually contain an art piece with painted rocks forming a pathway as well as bird feeders, water gauge and thermometer.
“They work in teams and learn to water and follow directions reading on the seed packets,” said Rohaly of the horticulture club members. They grew tomatoes, mint and herbs last year and are continuing to care for the garden and make additions.
“It was really cool because it shows a lot about our school and we learned about the person who came up with the friendship trees,” said fifth-grader Mia Arredondo. “I like horticulture club because I can work with other kids and we enjoy gardening, especially growing vegetables.”