Rhinelander fir to grace Capitol
Local family donates tree with a personal history
By Jared Raney
This winter, a tree from Rhinelander will display inside the Wisconsin State Capitol.
A 33-foot balsam fir was donated by the Kowieski family, from their yard in Pine Lake. But it’s not just any tree. This tree has a special, personal history for the Kowieski family.
Thirty years ago, when Brad Kowieski, now vice president of State Bank of Florence in Eagle River, was in fourth grade at Nativity Catholic, he planted the tree in his parents’ backyard. For three decades that tree has stood as a sentinel over the Kowieski house, but it has reached the end of its guard.
“Trees grow up, and they get old and they fall over. They become something that can’t be used,” Kowieski said. “Knowing that this is going to go to the state and the citizens of Wisconsin, it’s going to be something that’s big and beautiful and can be enjoyed by people for a while, it is fantastic.”
The ceremonial tree cutting wasn’t just an opportunity for the Kowieskis to say goodbye, it also became a learning opportunity for the current Nativity Catholic fourth grade class, who attended on Kowieski’s invitation.
“The opportunity to show kids that if you take time to do something when you’re young, it can have fruit when you’re older—I think we need that today, and just showing the ability to rejuvinate and regrow, plant seeds and watch them grow, is important,” Kowieski said. “We’re going to plant another tree, too, so it helps complete the circle of rejuvination.”
It’s the second consecutive year a tree from Oneida County was chosen for the State Tree, last year’s coming from Pelican Lake, donated by Dennis and Kim Schoeneck.
“I think it’s so neat for Rhinelander to know that the State Christmas Tree is from here,” said Patricia Guzman, a former teacher at Nativity Catholic and Brad Kowieski’s fourth grade teacher when he planted the tree. “For Nativity and the children there to find out that when you plant something like this that it pays off.”
The original planting was part of an Arbor Day program between the DNR and Nativity, where each student was given a seedling to take home.
“I came home that day, and you’re in fourth grade, what do you want to do, you want to plant your tree,” Kowieski said. “So we picked this spot to plant it, and it survived through everything that nature or people could throw at it. So it’s cool for that reason, surviving through everything.”
“I never knew that this had happened,” Guzman said of Kowieski planting the tree. “It was quite a surprise when I was called.”
The tree was cut on Tuesday morning, with volunteer assistance from Ponsse, and trucked to Madison the next day. On Nov. 30, the tree will be brought inside the Capitol Building itself, where it will be decorated with ‘Wisconsin Sports-themed’ ornaments that have been donated from around the state.