Lasting Memories by Carol Milano
Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Lofty Oaks Association -- America's oldest and largest private memorial tree-planting service c operates in all 50 states, with over 400 member funeral homes. Hadlock is president.
Lofty Oaks is "a public relations program for the funeral home -- a marketing opportunity within the area they serve, revolving around the planting of a tree," notes Craig Klocker, national marketing director. Each tree is planted in the home state of the deceased, on public lands (town, county, state or federal).
In Massachusetts alone, Lofty Oaks has planted nearly 50,000 trees over the years, including 1,500 at Lynn Woods Reservation, one of Massachusetts' largest city parks. "They'd had a forest fire recently. Our trees are replacing some of those that burned," says Klocker.
USING THE SERVICE
Lofty Oaks members pay a modest fee to join, then an annual renewal fee. Each time they request a tree planting, the funeral home is charged an amount Klocker describes as "less than 0.5 percent of the cost of the average funeral."
Some members have called on Lofty Oaks thousands of times. The Robert L. D'Anjolell's Memorial Home in Broommall, Pa., for example, has planted over 5,000 trees.
Funeral homes differ in how they use the service. In Billings, Mont., Michelotti-Sawyers & Nordquist Mortuary and Crematory has a tree planted "for every family we serve, whether for a cremation or a traditional service," reports Barry Brekhus, a partner in the 45-year-old business, which assists about 300 families a year.
Wittmaier-Scanlin Funeral Home in Chalfont, Pa., also plants a tree after all funerals, sometimes telling the family during arrangements. "I think it's almost better to let them find out later, as a little gift from us that they didn't expect. Then they know I haven't forgotten them, that they're not a number here but a very important family," reflects Jim Scanlin, owner of the 38-year-old firm.
"In our presentation packet to the family, a little card from the Lofty Oaks Association says, 'A tree will be planted in memory of your loved one.' Often, people don't remember, or may not open the envelope," Scanlin finds. "I think most people are surprised when they get the letter and then the certificate from Lofty Oaks."
Brust Funeral Homes in Chicago's western suburbs plants a tree for each family selecting complete services. "As we meet with the family when visitation begins, we explain the program and give them a form to list four family members who will receive a letter saying that a memorial tree will be planted, in a state forest in Illinois," observes Ron Foresman, manager of the 49-year-old family-owned business.
"We tell them it's a small token of our sympathy. In the Midwest, we sell about 25 percent hardwood caskets, so I impress on people that they are replacing the tree, and helping the environment," adds Foresman, who also suggests to families that the certificate will be a nice keepsake. Brust's locations in Lombard, Villa Park and Carol Stream plant about 300 trees a year.
153-year-old Pearson Funeral Home in Louisville, Ky., handles over 400 funerals a year. The long-time Lofty Oaks member "gears the tree plantings to our hardwood casket sales -- we're doing a re-sourcing there," says David Pearson, president. "We tell the family this is something we do: plant a tree in Daniel Boone National Forest (in eastern Kentucky). We place about 150 trees a year -- it's major reforestation," Pearson said.
How do families regard the memorial trees? "I get positive
feedback from the families we've served, in a note or when I
see them in the local supermarket," says Scanlin. Foresman
finds "families very appreciative when we explain this to
them. We've had numerous letters of thanks from families saying
how much this meant to them. Some letters go right to Lofty Oaks
(because that's the return address) and they send us a copy."
PUBLIC RELATIONS ASPECTS
It isn't only a bereaved family that learns of the memorial tree. Scanlin is grateful that Lofty Oaks will notify everyone he lists on their form: "the priest or minister, fire company if he the deceased was a volunteer, any fraternal or veterans' group he may have belonged to, and other family members. Everyone hears that Wittmaier-Scanlin Funeral Home had a tree planted in memory of their loved one." The only funeral home in their eastern Pennsylvania town, they handle about 95 funerals a year.
Pearson, too, cites the value of Lofty Oaks sending a letter about the memorial tree to any organization the deceased had belonged to. "I've had families state at the time we make arrangements that they had heard about our memorial tree program," he remarks.
"It's a community involvement program," asserts Klocker. "Because we include churches, clubs, synagogues, and civic organizations in our mailing, the memorial tree may get mentioned in a church bulletin, or during a service, which is good publicity."
"Many people now know about Lofty Oaks when they come to us," Foresman notices. "We've served their family or friends so they've heard about it." Brust uses a tree, in its ads and logo, to subtly suggest their memorial planting activities. In public areas of-the funeral homes, they display their plaques from the Lofty Oaks Association about how many trees they've planted.
Michelotti-Sawyers sometimes includes "Member of Lofty Oaks Association" in its advertisements. Brekhus says, "Lofty Oaks is good about sending press releases at different times of the year, which members can forward to their local media." Press releases announce that a funeral home has joined the program or reached a significant number of trees (such as 500). Others arrive around Arbor Day or Earth Day, when local papers are likely to use them.
PLANTING THE TREES
Trees are planted every spring and fall. In addition to contracts with certified nurseries, arborists and foresters, Lofty Oaks works with 4H Clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, who may earn forestry or environment badges for taking part. "A Louisville Scout troop plants trees every fall. They receive a fee to do that, so it becomes a fundraiser for them," observes Pearson. A minimum of 250 trees, about four years old, are planted in each location.
Contractees select a tree appropriate to the specific region, as well as the planting site. While families understand that 'their' tree has no individual inscription, many like to know its general location. In Montana, trees are planted wherever the Forest Service is doing work. "Some have been in Custer National Cemetery, which is relatively close to Billings," says Brekhus.
NOT A MONOPOLY
Other organizations offer memorial tree plantings. When Jim Scanlin heard
enthusiastic reviews of Lofty
Scanlin rates Lofty Oaks' outreach efforts "a very effective way to get our name around and show that we make a difference for families we serve. That was a big selling point for me, because it puts us in a very positive light in the community."
Brekhus agrees. "The program's worked real well for us -- families seem to be very appreciative of the fact that it's something taking place here in Montana." He particularly likes the gracious way in which Lofty Oaks presents families with news of their memorial tree.
"I personally feet it's a very meaningful gesture. We
don't use it to be promotional," Foresman confides.