A Tree Grows In East Hampton

Richard Lewin
Olivia Brooks of LVIS, Rose Brown, David McMaster Mayor Paul Rickenbach, Barbara Borsack, and Richard Lawler.

If you pay a live visit or take a virtual trip to 47 Pantigo Road in East Hampton (the 1960s site of the Mark R. Buick-Pontiac dealership), you will find one sole tree on a huge open lawn, a Callery Pear “Survivor Tree.” Its presence there has quite a complex history.

Coincidentally, the East Hampton portion of the story began at the East Hampton Post Office, directly across the street from the tree’s location, with a chance meeting in the lobby between East Hampton Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach and Betsy McMaster. The mayor shared with Betsy the sad news of the loss of his beloved daughter, Karen Denise, to cancer relating to her rescue visits to the World Trade Center immediately after September 11, 2001. McMaster told her husband, David, who, as guest speaker at the October meeting of the Mayor’s Tuesday Club, described the heritage of survivor trees, including East Hampton’s own.

David McMaster has been with Bartlett Tree Experts for 37 years, and is currently vice president and division manager. He reports that, about a month after 9/11, workers at the World Trade Center site, along with New York City School District architect Ron Vega (later an architect of the 9/11 Memorial Museum) and Rebecca Clough spotted a live pear tree (Pyrus calleryana) branch sticking out of the rubble. What was left of the formerly eight-foot tree was rescued and taken to the Arthur Ross Nursery in the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park, where it grew to 35 feet tall, under the care of Richie Cabo and Robert Zappala.

Among the many innovations David has brought to Bartlett, with the support of chairman and CEO Robert Bartlett, is the Survivor Tree Seedling Program. As David McMaster reported, since the Bartlett Pear Tree is technically an invasive species, there are plenty of seedlings to go around. The program annually selects three communities in the world that have endured tragedy in recent years to receive seedlings for the creation of their own Survivor Tree Memorial, an idea originally conceived by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The original Survivor Tree was returned to its permanent home at the World Trade Center’s 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

The East Hampton tree was planted in July 2016, on the anniversary of Karen Denise Rickenbach’s death. East Hampton Village held an official tree dedication and plaque presentation at the tree on Wednesday, October 16. Joining Mayor Rickenbach and David McMaster were other village officials and Olivia Brooks, head of the East Hampton Ladies’ Village Improvement Society’s tree committee.

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