We are sad to report the passing of “TreeKeeper Jim” DeHorn. A towering legend to TreeKeepers and industry professionals alike, Jim will be remembered as a tireless advocate for trees, a passionate instructor, and an inspiration to thousands. Beth Botts, TreeKeeper and course instructor, perhaps best captured the dual impact of his work: “Though he may talk like he’s all about trees, he wouldn’t have become the King of TreeKeepers if he weren’t, in his own way, a great people person. It’s because he has been able to spread his love of trees to people that he has helped so many trees.”
His gruff exterior and memorable beard belied his patient and personal teaching style; his background as a union organizer honed his skills at managing diverse groups of volunteers, be they TreeKeepers, students, retirees, experts, novices, or a mix thereof.
The TreeKeepers Program was launched in 1991 on the heels of the successful Neighborwoods volunteer-driven tree planting initiative. When Jim took the TreeKeepers course in 1993, no one could have envisioned the lasting impact he would have on the program.
He was hired in 1999 as the TreeKeepers Coordinator and made an immediate impression. After Asian Longhorn Beetle (ALB) was discovered in Chicago, TreeKeepers assisted the city with tree identification, the only non-municipal group to help with this critical effort. In 2006, when Emerald Ash Borer was first detected in Chicago, TreeKeepers again helped with monitoring efforts to help contain the spread of the devastation. TreeKeepers would also go on to inventory parks in Chicago. By the time the 20th anniversary of TreeKeepers was celebrated in 2011, over 1,000 people had graduated from the course. TreeKeeper Jim’s dedication, technical expertise, generosity, and gentle spirit have molded the program and its twin focus on trees and people. In recent years, he could be found volunteering at North Park Village Nature Center, continuing to inspire others and care for nature.
TreeKeeper Jim’s life will be celebrated with a ceremonial tree planting and reception at North Park Village Nature Center (5801 N. Pulaski Rd., Chicago) on Saturday, April 13 at 3:30pm. All are welcome.