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Academy’s ‘mighty oak’ recognized

Chesapeake Academy kindergartners attempt to encircle the school’s mighty willow oak. They are, from left, Kendall Walker, Ashton Hollingsworth, Mary Malone Johnson, Reese Bragg, Olivia Smith, Mary Esten Brown, Katherine Thomas, Emma Smith, Faith Hattersley and teacher Karen Minter.

How many kindergartners does it take to engirdle a tree? Well, if the tree has a diameter of seven and a half feet and is recognized as one of the five largest willow oaks in the state of Virginia, the answer is—an entire class!

Chesapeake Academy’s magnificent oak, anchoring the six-acre campus in historic Irvington on Steamboat Road, was chosen as of one of 14 oaks to represent the state in the just released book, “Remarkable Trees of Virginia.” The oversized book features the outstanding photography of Robert Llewellyn and the informative and inspiring prose of authors Nancy Ross Hugo and Jeff Kirwan.

That Chesapeake’s mighty oak was selected for the book was no surprise to academy science teacher Linda “Doc” Hunter, who nominated the mighty “quercus phellos” in the fall of 2007. The tree has been loved by the town of Irvington, students, families, and faculty for decades; immortalized in songs, poems and a succession of yearbook covers; revered as the favored background for graduation and sporting events; and featured in countless 7th grade tree identification projects.

Chesapeake’s giant oak epitomizes the mission of the school, notes preschool teacher Julia Zimmerman. “The stronger your roots, the broader your canopy,” she said. 

To nominate Chesapeake Academy’s outstanding willow oak, Hunter accessed the “Remarkable Trees of Virginia” website hosted by the Virginia Tech Department of Forestry.

Core samples taken by Hunter with the help of a local forester reveal an estimated age of Chesapeake’s willow oak of over 200 years, although according to the book, photographs provided by Irvington resident and historian Frances Chase Simmons show a barely visible tree on the east side of Steamboat Road at the turn of the century.

Although the tree’s age is unknown, Simmons believes it was probably planted around 1880, when James Christian Kirkmyer built a house on the property it occupies.

“That oak is like a graceful, venerable lady with welcoming, outstretched arms,” notes Irvington resident and Chesapeake Academy parent Susan Johnson. 

posted 10.08.2008

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