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Ocean Springs loses its biggest and oldest oak; family loses a treasure

Ocean Springs loses its biggest and oldest oak tree
By Karen Nelson | Sun Herald | July 25, 2013 

FOREMAN FAMILY Nora Hasty with the giant oak in her yard that had been the city's oldest and biggest. The oak was named after her. Hasty died in 2004. The oak split earlier this month and had to be removed.


OCEAN SPRINGS -- The Hasty Oak, Ocean Springs' largest and oldest until this week, was named after the woman who lived under it for decades.

Nora Hasty bought the little house under the giant oak on Forest Hill Drive in the 1940s and moved in with her two daughters.

She died in 2004 at the age of 95. Then on July 9, the Hasty Oak split, and after a process of evaluation, it died. It took more than a week for a crew and two large cranes to take it down and remove it from the property. They finished Tuesday.

"I grieved when it fell. It was like losing a family member," Sylvia Hasty Foreman said.

Foreman grew up under the tree and now she lives in her mother's house again. She said that when the tree split and fell apart, the neighbors thought there had been an earthquake.

"I thought it was a big clap of thunder," Foreman said. It happened at 11:30 at night.

She said they're lucky it didn't fall on the house, but it took out two sheds and covered her husband's truck with huge limbs.

The city's biggest

The tree had filled the backyard. The trunk was 7.5 feet across at a point 4 feet off the ground. The spread was 157.5 feet and it was 63 feet in height.

Tony Miller, an arborist with Cambium Tree Care, decided it couldn't be saved. He said that in its 500 years of growing, it had developed two dominant limbs that pulled in different directions. As they grew together to form the trunk, they created a weakness in the center of the tree because the huge limbs were bark to bark and not truly growing together structurally.

When it split, it split all the way to the roots.

Miller said he might have been able to save the half that stood, except it was weak and had been damaged by a bad pruning job many years ago, probably after a hurricane. A large damaged limb had been cut off flush with the tree. The tree couldn't heal from the cut and instead developed a large, rotten cavity.

For safety's sake, Foreman said, they took the whole tree, but not without a hearing before the city Tree Committee and the Board of Aldermen.

After all it was the city's oldest and biggest and Ocean Springs has a Tree City USA designation, which means it has laws on how and when trees can be cut down.

Everyone reluctantly agreed it needed to go. But the expense fell to the Foremans.


Weighty issue

Taking down the Hasty Oak was a tall order. Each of the two main branches of the trunk, with all the limbs removed, weighed a great deal.

One side weighed in at 17 tons. Miller had to get a bigger crane. The other was 14 tons. The limbs seemed to go on forever.

With the Hasty Oak gone, the Ruskin Oak on Ruskin Avenue steps up as the largest Live Oak tree in Ocean Springs, Mayor Connie Moran said.

It's believed to be 500 years old as well.

Moran said the Ruskin is a very popular tree for portraits and already is on the city's cultural asset map, recently completed by the Mississippi Development Authority.

"I would like to see us be able to ensure its health and endurance, perhaps by making a donation to the Chamber of Commerce for that purpose, for professional care," she said. "It is definitely a natural treasure of our community."

The Hasty Oak was more of a personal treasure, partly hidden from view by the house.

Foreman and her sister were 4 and 6 when them moved into the little house under the oak. On Wednesday, Foreman had a stack of photos of the tree three inches thick. One in the stack was of Nora Hasty standing by the trunk.

"She raked those leaves and raked those leaves," Foreman said, remembering her mother's devotion.

Foreman walked to the backyard where the stump stood.

"He wanted to grind the stump," she said. "But I said leave it awhile, for my mother. I needed something to remember her by."