Dickinson dedicates Arbor Day in honor of late city forester

The City of Dickinson declared Oct. 5 as Arbor Day and planted an elm tree in memory of Vernon Quam, who passed away last year.

Dickinson forestry
Dickinson Public Works Director Gary Zuroff, left, Leon Larson and City Forester Blake Johnson at the dedication of a tree commemorating Vernon Quam.
Contributed / City of Dickinson
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DICKINSON — Earlier this month, Mayor Scott Decker declared Oct. 5 as Arbor Day in the City of Dickinson. As part of the day’s celebration, the City Forestry Department planted two trees at the Public Works facility where approximately 30 people were in attendance.

He spoke for the trees

A ‘Survivor Tree’ was dedicated to the memory of Vernon Quam, who served as city forester from 2018 until his death in 2021. Quam was an avid horticulture and forestry enthusiast, who delighted in sharing his passion with anyone interested in flowers, plants and trees.

The American Elm tree, among his favorite species, will stand in memoriam of his dedication to the beauty of plant life.

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The trees, donated by Quam’s friend and co-worker Leon Larson, are descendants of the Survivor Tree — a 90-year old American Elm, which withstood the blast from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Dickinson Public Works Director Gary Zuroff said he relied heavily on the, “North Dakota Tree Handbook” while working in eastern Montana, and noted Quam's impressive level of familiarity with the book.


“When he applied for the position, I said, ‘Well, I've used that tree handbook, which I thought was really helpful.’ And I said, ‘Vern, have you used that handbook before?’ He says, ‘Well, I helped write it.’ So that kind of helped him secure the position,” Zuroff explained. “Vern was very knowledgeable as a forester.”

Quam, who was 64, died unexpectedly in May of 2021 after complications with coronavirus.

“It was sudden when he left us and it kind of hit everybody hard. And I think a lot of us still miss him out here,” Zuroff said.

Vernon Quam
Gary Zuroff said Vernon Quam, pictured, was a wonderful man who was loved by his coworkers.
Contributed / City of Dickinson

Arbor Day history

Arbor Day in the U.S. was started in 1872 by J. Sterling Morton, a pioneer of horticulture and journalism. He planted many trees on his 160 acre farm and used his newspaper, the first in the state, to promote forestry. Within a decade Arbor Day was celebrated by schools throughout the nation. Morton’s activism was likely inspired by the Spanish. In 1594 the mayor of a village called Mondoñedo organized the first documented horticulture celebration.

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President and a Western Edge legend whose name is featured more prominently across the Badlands than anyone else in its rich history, was a fierce conservationist. . In 1907 Roosevelt issued a proclamation expressing the importance of the occasion to the nation’s school children.

“It is well that you should celebrate your Arbor Day thoughtfully, for within your lifetimes the nation’s need of trees will become serious,” Roosevelt stated in the decree. “We of an older generation can get along with what we have, though with growing hardship; but in your full manhood and womanhood you will want what nature once so bountifully supplied and man so thoughtlessly destroyed.”

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Jason O’Day is a University of Iowa graduate, with Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Before moving to Dickinson in September of 2021, he was a general news reporter at the Creston News Advertiser in rural southwest Iowa. He was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. With a passion for the outdoors and his Catholic faith, he’s loving life on the Western Edge.
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