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Patriot Day: Trees grown from seeds that survived Oklahoma City bombing dedicated at COS

Kelsey Shelton
Siskiyou Daily News
Beneath elm trees grown from seeds that survived the Oklahoma City bombing, people gathered on Sept. 11, 2020 at College of the Siskiyous.

The sound of bagpipes filled the air Friday morning, Sept. 11 at College of the Siskiyous, where students, law enforcement, veterans, school faculty, and members of the community dedicated five elm trees, planted from seeds that survived the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. 

After Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Chaplain Keith Bradley led the attendees in prayer, Sheriff Jon Lopey addressed the crowd with a speech of reflection, remembrance, and support for all heroes who died and were affected by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Marie Mitchell, whose brother was one of 2,606 to die in the Twin Towers on 9/11, speaks at a ceremony dedicating "survivor trees" at College of the Siskiyous on Sept. 11, 2020.

“We remember 2,977 of our brothers and sisters who were killed in the Twin Towers in New York, and in the Pentagon,” said Lopey. “From my perspective, it transformed our nation. We united. In tragedy, we united.”

Lopey, who is retiring from his post as Siskiyou County Sheriff next week, spoke of his own time serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how many soldiers were lost or injured while there. 

The trees were donated to the College of the Siskiyous by Mount Shasta resident Marie Mitchell. Her brother, New York City firefighter Paul Mitchell, died in the Twin Towers on 9/11.

Mitchell quoted a rabbi who spoke a New York City service she attended after the tragedy. “3,000 people did not die; one person died, 3,000 times,” she said.

For each person who died, Mitchell said, “a circle of family and friends were forever changed.”

Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey, a veteran, speaks during a dedication for survivor trees at College of the Siskiyous on Sept. 11, 2020.

“Out of all that, and what we are here to celebrate, is the spirit of compassion, kindness and caring,” said Mitchell.

In 2003, Mitchell visited the memorial site in New York City to honor her brother. While there, she attended a luncheon where she met a survivor of the Oklahoma City bombing: keynote speaker Betty Robbins. 

Robbins had seeds from the “Survivor Tree,” which still stood after the April 19, 1995 Oklahome City bombing. 

“The tree was on fire, and had shrapnel embedded in it,” Mitchell said, yet it still grew to produce seeds. 

Marie Mitchell, who grew elm trees from the seeds of a tree that survived the Oklahoma City Bombing, speaks during a dedication for the trees on Sept. 11, 2020 at College of the Siskiyous.

Robbins gave the seeds to who people who lost family in the 9/11 tragedy, including Mitchell. When she returned home, Mitchell planted the seeds and grew several trees, five of which were donated to COS. Three of them were dedicated Friday at the Weed campus. Two others are at the COS campus in Yreka.

Located next to the statue of Shakespeare and McCloud Hall, a bronze plaque was installed near the trees, as well as two benches where people can sit and reflect. The project was accomplished by the College of the Siskiyous Foundation.

After Mitchell concluded her speech, COS music student Stephanie Schoonmaker sang “God Bless America” for the crowd. 

A plaque explaining the significance of survivor trees at College of the Siskiyous in Weed.

“That brought tears to my eyes,” said Dawnie Slabaugh, Communications Director for College of the Siskiyous. 

COS president Stephen Schoonmaker thanked all who participated in the funding, creation, and establishing of the memorial trees. 

Schoonmaker thanked trustees, as well as Mitchell, Dennis Sbarbaro, Linda Romaine, late Susan Boston, and all others who made the memorial possible. 

The dedication was filmed by the Siskiyou Media Council and it will be available on their website, as well as the College of the Siskiyous Facebook page.

A plaque explaining the significance of the elm trees at College of the Siskiyous was dedicated on Sept. 11, 2020.