Jan. 30, 2008
SEATTLE - A ceremony originally set for Wednesday to plant a replacement for an "Olympic Oak" that once stood on campus will be re-scheduled. The tree will be planted on the south side of the Conibear Shellhouse in the near future.
The original oak tree was brought to campus in 1936 by rower Joe Rantz, a member of the Husky varsity eight that won the gold medal at the Berlin Olympic Games. Each gold medal winning individual or team at the 1936 Summer Olympics was given an oak tree sapling.
Rantz received the oak designated for the gold medalist in rowing and brought it to Seattle as he was the only member of the crew returning directly home.
The tree thrived for a long time on campus, but it eventually died after being moved to several different campus locations.
Rantz passed away in September and the planting ceremony was organized by his daughter, Judith Willman. She worked to procure the replacement oak tree that will be ceremoniously planted outside the UW's shellhouse.
The new location is ideal as the building contains numerous trophies and memorabilia commemorating the proud tradition of Husky rowing. Also inside the crewhouse, hanging from the rafters of the dining room, is the shell the 1936 crew used to win the gold medal.
The Legacy of the Olympic Oaks
During Berlin's 1936 Olympic games, seedling oaks were awarded to all gold medallists. Over the next 67 years, the U.S. team's 24 seedling trees were subjected to difficult days of anti-German sentiment, neglect, and disease. Today, only a handful remain, each living up to the motto written on its pot when it was presented: "Grow in the honor of victory! Summon to further achievement!"
They were a "gift of the German people." A Berlin gardening firm that supplied oak wreaths for the gold medallists proposed awarding the trees. Although Adolf Hitler did not actually present them, the nickname "Hitler Trees" stuck; many of the plaques and markers were removed during WWII due to the association with the Hitler. The oaks were planted in special soil, treated against disease, and tended carefully during cultivation, according to a report at the time. However, the report said most were in a "sorry state" when released from quarantine back in America.