PADDOCK LAKE — The mighty falcon carved out of the trunk of a historic tree has landed back at Central High School thanks to the Class of 2019.
The icon, taken down in 2014 to make room for added parking, was carved out of the 15-foot-tall trunk of a once mighty oak older than the school itself.
The Smith family agreed to sell the land to the school district with one stipulation — that the tree not be cut down. When the Smith home was razed to make way for the new school in 1952, construction crews worked around its widespread branches.
At that time, it was estimated the tree was more than 100 years old. It measured a girth of 13 feet 10 inches at hip height. It also predated the Smith home, the walls of which were pasted with copies of the Southport Telegram dating back to 1845 — when Kenosha was Southport and C.L. Sholes, inventor of the typewriter, was editor and publisher of the Southport Telegram.
Generations of students had enjoyed the shade under the tree by the time it first showed signs of distress in the spring of 1998. Some believe the roots were damaged during road construction. It was significantly trimmed to sustain its life.
In September 1998, after further decline, the top was felled and woodcarver Ron Tepley, a CHS graduate, spent a week carving the falcon into its trunk.
By 2014, the trunk had split. The district explored whether rods could be driven into the tree to help hold it together. But, it was deemed unfeasible, and the carving was removed when the district upgraded its parking lot in the front of the school.
“I always wanted to find the wooden falcon because all the teachers would talk about it and knew it still existed,” said Kaitlyn Hill, 18, senior class vice president. “But no one would tell me where it was. So, it was my goal for this year to find it.”
After some investigation, Hill learned the Weis family, which owns Complete Tree Service in Burlington, still had it.
She and classmate Laura Shoopman, 18, senior class secretary, went to see if it could be saved.
“It was not in the best shape,” Shoopman said. “The left side of the face was a little bit rotted out. It had a couple of holes in it. The side of the bird, where the wings are, had clamp marks from when it was hauled away.”
Kevin Snyder at Arbor Forest Products and Landscaping Supply in Burlington said he would try to help restore it, Hill said.
“I thought it would be interesting to see what we could do to save it,” Snyder said. “The whole thing was pretty much rotten inside.”
After cleaning out the rotted wood, Snyder, with help from co-worker John Curby, inserted a log into the center and then re-carved the face.
“It took the two of us about a week to do,” Snyder said.
Hill said they also gave it a fresh coat of stain so everything would match.
“We didn’t actually tell the class we were doing this as the class gift until about two months ago,” Hill said. “But, once they heard about it, they were all in agreement that it would be really cool.”
“Overall, the community was pretty excited about it,” Hill said. “Most of the teachers here are alumni, and they were like, ‘This is great; we really want this back.”