- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

PINEVILLE, La. (AP) - When Joyce Kilmer wrote “only God can make a tree” in his “Trees” poem in 1913, a live oak was growing on land that later became the grounds of Huey P. Long Medical Center in Pineville.

That tree is still growing there and could possibly be around for centuries to come. The tree, now officially known as the “Huey P. Long” tree, is one of three enduring live oaks at the site that have been added to the Live Oak Society registry of the Louisiana Garden Club Foundation Inc.

The effort to have the trees join the registry was spearheaded by Helen W. Moore of Pineville.

When Moore looks at the large live oak tree in front of the entrance to the now-closed hospital building, she sees beyond its trunk, branches and leaves.

“Only God can make a tree, and you don’t replace one like this,” Moore said while sitting in the shade of the tree while the temperature was hovering around triple digits.

She enjoyed talking to co-workers under the tree during the 27 years she worked as a registered dietitian at the hospital, but the tree now has taken on a new meaning for her since being one of the three joining the Live Oak Society registry.

The live oak tree in front of the hospital building has been officially named “Helen Williams Watson Moore, RD.”

The largest and oldest of the three trees is the one named “Huey P. Long” after the colorful Louisiana governor. The other is named “Professor Elaine H. Brister” in honor of the late Louisiana College educator who was an author, historian and Rapides Parish School Board member. Brister wrote “Once Upon a River: A History of Pineville, Louisiana.”

Moore feels honored to have a historic tree named after her. The board of the Historical Association of Central Louisiana chose the names for the three trees and didn’t tell Moore until after the vote was taken.

“I’m a little embarrassed about it. For one thing, I’m the only living person. The other two are named for deceased people,” Moore said.

Yvette Hebert of Alexandria is thankful the three trees are getting special recognition. She is immediate past president of the Louisiana Garden Club Federation Inc., which is affiliated with the National Garden Clubs Inc.

While registry status doesn’t ensure the live oaks won’t be cut down at some point, the society has been successful in convincing businesses and governmental agencies to preserve trees on the register, even if that means revising plans for a development project or road project to accommodate them.

“These live oak trees that we have are really a precious commodity that we have in our state,” Hebert said while under the branches of the Helen Moore tree. “Look how beautiful it is to sit under this tree and enjoy it.”

She said live oaks “are part of our Southern culture.” Because of the trees’ beauty and longevity, she said, “to cut that down, to me it’s almost a crime.”

In at least one case, a big live oak was transplanted and survived.

Like Moore, Hebert appreciates live oak trees on a high level.

“The first thing that comes to mind . it reminds me of God - the serenity of it, the simple beauty of it, the calmness and serenity, children in the summertime crawling in those limbs,” Hebert said while looking at the huge Huey P. Long tree.

The Alexandria Garden Club, of which both Moore and Hebert are members, played a role in getting the trees at HPL on the Live Oak Society registry.

The announcement of the Live Oak Society registry status for the three trees comes on the heels of the hospital building joining the National Register of Historic Places. The Historical Association of Central Louisiana was involved in both endeavors, with Moore playing a key role.

Charles Charrier, president of the Historical Association of Central Louisiana, said Long deserves the tree-name recognition because of his health-care accomplishments as governor.

Brister was chosen by the association board for the honor because of the work she did in preserving Pineville history, while Moore was honored for her efforts to save the trees and the charity hospital building, Charrier said.

He said Moore was excluded from the discussion of the naming of the trees.

“The board felt we should honor Helen because she is at this point keeping the torch burning on the preservation of Huey P. Long hospital,” Charrier said.

Having the trees added to the registry helps “keep the preservation of the hospital in the public spotlight.”

The Historical Association seeks to preserve important trees and other works of Mother Nature, as well as historic buildings, he said.

“Trees of significance can be historic landmarks,” Charrier said.

The tree named after Huey P. Long is more than 100 years old, earning it “centurion” status from the Live Oak Society. Located behind the hospital building, the tree has a huge split in the middle, and some of its large branches droop down to rest on the ground.

But Hebert says the tree is thriving. She does suggest that an arborist take a look at it to see if any special care is needed.

The Huey P. Long tree has a girth of 26 feet 2 inches as measured at a height of between 4 and 4.5 feet, according to Moore. The tree’s spread is 110 feet.

The Helen Moore tree and the Elaine Brister tree are less than 100 years old, so they are considered “Junior League” trees, although still worthy of special recognition.

The Helen Moore tree, which has benches underneath its branches, has a girth of 10 feet 3 inches and a spread of 95 feet. It was not yet growing when the hospital opened in 1939.

The Elaine Brister tree is located near the northeast side of the hospital building. It has an elevated deck around it. Its girth is 13 feet 4 inches, and its spread is 108 feet.

The newly honored trees don’t have plaques of recognition in place, but that is in the works.

Coleen Perilloux Landry, chairman of the Live Oak Society, said adding the three trees to the registry “is very fitting to honor the history and the people for whom they are named.”

“Louisiana will be forever grateful to Huey P. Long for furnishing free school books and medical care to children at a time when no one in Louisiana had money for food, much less school books,” Landry said in an email.

“Mrs. Moore gave most of her life to make the hospital a good one and to preserve it for posterity. Professor Brister’s contributions to Pineville are numerous, especially her book, ‘Once Upon a River: A History of Pineville, Louisiana.’

“It is a time in history that the live oaks lived there amongst all of the people who made it what it is. The Live Oak Society is proud to have these beautiful, historical oaks on its registry,” Landry added.

Marie Mayeaux of Alexandria has worked at the hospital a total of 36 years and is one of the few employees still left there. She is involved in asset management.

She said the shade of the Helen Moore tree was an employee gathering spot for chatting, eating lunch or taking a coffee break.

“We’d just come sit out here and visit for a while,” she said while standing near the tree.

She misses the days when the hospital was open, saying the employees were like one big family.

Mayeaux is glad the trees and building have gotten some special attention through joining prestigious registries.

“I am extremely proud of that because it’s just a historic site, and everybody has been so sad since it closed. It’s something that hopefully it can serve a purpose to maybe help it reopen” in some capacity, Mayeaux said.

Moore said getting the trees on the Live Oak Society registry is part of the overall preservation effort for the HPL site. She is hopeful the hospital building can be repurposed and dreads the thought that it could potentially someday be torn down.

The hospital building is under the auspices of LSU Health Shreveport. State officials haven’t determined what the future holds for the building.

The three special trees on the HPL grounds could be there for many generations to appreciate. It is not unusual for live oak trees to live 200 to 300 years or more. A live oak in Mandeville near Lake Pontchartrain has a girth of more than 38 feet and is estimated to be about 1,200 years old.

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Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, http://www.thetowntalk.com

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