A 95-year-old giving tree comes down with a legacy

CEDAR CITY — When workers cut down a historic black walnut tree on the Southern Utah University campus earlier this week, it marked the end of an era.

Workers cut down a walnut tree on Southern Utah University campus, Cedar City, Utah, May 11, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Tom Dover said his father, Kent “Red” Dover, who is now 98 years old, still remembers planting the tree in around 1925 or 1926.

“He was only three years old, but he said he remembers his dad digging that hole and letting him put the seedling in it,” Tom Dover said of his father, who still lives at his home nearby.

Tuesday morning, more than 95 years later, the stately tree finally came down. Using chainsaws, two professional arborists cut the tree in pieces, after which the trunk and main branches were subsequently loaded onto trailers and taken off-site for safekeeping.

After the wood has been dried sufficiently, Tom Dover said, it’ll be used to build his father’s coffin.

Tom Dover said his father has been made aware the tree has been cut down, which he wasn’t too happy about. However, he hasn’t yet been told of the idea to eventually bury him in a casket made from its wood.

“I’m certainly going to tell him, I just need him to be of a mental state that he understands what I’m saying,” Tom Dover told Cedar City News, adding that he’s fairly certain his father, who turns 99 in November, will be supportive of the idea.

“As kids, we all played in this tree and would get walnuts from it,” Tom Dover recalled Tuesday morning as the workers’ chainsaws buzzed in the background near the corner of 900 West and 200 South, just south of SUU’s America First Event Center. 

Tom Dover was joined at the scene by his brother Patrick Dover and their sister Marilyn Grainger. A fourth sibling, Kelly Dover, died in an automobile accident at age 22 in 1980 along with his young son. 

Workers cut down a walnut tree just south of the America First Event Center on the Southern Utah University campus, Cedar City, Utah, May 11, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“There was an old ditch here, and the road was narrower,” Tom Dover added as he turned and pointed northward. “And all this area between here and Center Street was a pasture for dairy cows.”

The original Dover family included nine children, of which Kent was the youngest. They and a number of other relatives all shared the surrounding neighborhood, which later became part of the SUU campus.

“So, this whole area was called Doverville,” Tom Dover said, adding that there were several members of the Cox family residing in the neighborhood as well. “If (a home) wasn’t a Dover, it was a Cox, for the most part.”

Kent Dover went on to play football, basketball and track for Branch Normal College, which became SUU decades later. He was inducted into the SUU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015. Two years later, Kent Dover and his wife Bessie were on hand to see the dedication of the hall’s improved and expanded exhibit inside the west concourse of the America First Event Center, with Kent’s own name becoming attached to the Hall of Fame itself.

Bessie and Kent Dover attend unveiling ceremony of expanded SUU Athletic Hall of Fame exhibit at America First Event Center, Cedar City, Utah, March 4, 2017 | Photo courtesy of Tom Dover, St. George News / Cedar City News

Bessie Dover, who died in April 2020 at age 96, was buried one day after her and Kent’s 75th wedding anniversary.

The walnut tree’s removal was necessitated by the fact that SUU is planning to build a new 90,000-square foot, state-of-the-art classroom building on that corner. Construction on the $43 million project, which was approved by the Utah Legislature earlier this year, is scheduled to start this summer.

As for the tree itself, its trunk, which was approximately three feet in diameter at its base, yielded 10 boards — each about 10 feet long and 1 ¼ inches thick, Tom Dover reported on Thursday.

“The guy that was sawing that trunk said it was full of nails,” he added, noting that the salvage project was made possible by Tiger Funk of SUU Facilities and Frank Nichols. “Most of those nails, including some old square horseshoe nails, were way in there, like more than a foot inside. They’d been in there for 50 years or so.”

“When we were kids, we probably all tried to build some form of tree house or something,” he added by way of explanation.

“He marks the end of his generation,” Tom Dover said of his father, who is the last remaining of nine siblings. “When he passes, that generation is gone. And then, the last piece of it is that he’ll be buried in the wood from that tree that he planted.”

Once Kent Dover’s coffin has been built, Tom Dover said the family plans to use the remaining wood from the tree to create a variety of items including pieces of furniture, jewelry boxes and other small keepsakes for the descendants.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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