Majestic 200-year-old Watson Live Oak taken down

Limb by limb the live oak was removed.
After receiving an email from licensed arborist Jason Badon, among many other concerned Livingston Parish officials, the Watson community had no choice but to accept that the more than two-hundred-year-old live oak tree that stood proudly in front of the former Live Oak High School in Watson had to come down. The school is currently under construction to become the new Live Oak Junior High.

Limb by limb the live oak was removed.

Limb by limb the live oak was removed.

In the email, Badon stated, “The live oak tree at the old Live Oak High School campus is a hazard and could kill someone. The limbs have cracks in them, rotten spots, and the entire tips are dead. The trunk has massive cracks with rotten wood throughout. The roots also have rotten spots. The cause for the damage is multiple lightning strikes over the years. Cables that were installed around 2011 to hold the limbs are over-stressed and about to break. It is too dangerous to have on school property where students walk. I have been monitoring the tree for the past 5 years, and it has to be removed.”
Jimmie Willson, Assistant Director of Maintenance for the Livingston Parish School Board said, “We have really tried everything (to save it), but it’s now a safety concern, and we cannot put children in harm’s way. We brought in several experts and arborists, and one even wanted to charge up to $10,000 to try and preserve the tree – with no guarantees. Another said we should call a priest.”
Project architect, Chris Bankston, with Gasaway-Gasaway-Bankston, said the construction plans were all drawn up to include this tree in the remodeling process.

“The limbs have cracks in them, rotten spots, and the entire tips are dead. The trunk has massive cracks with rotten wood throughout… I have been monitoring the tree for the past 5 years, and it has to be removed.” Jason Badon, Licensed Arborist
The tree was the inspiration for the name of the schools in the area, all of which bear the Live Oak name instead of Watson (an unincorporated community in the northwest region of Livingston Parish). People often mistakenly believe that the name of the community itself is named Live Oak because that is how many people refer to it.
“It was never intended to come down, as it has been so symbolic to the Live Oak schools and the entire Watson community. It’s sad, but necessary.”Bankston stated.
In an email to Coleen Perilloux Landry, head of Louisiana’s Live Oak Trees Preservation Society, it was stated that the tree was declining and needed to come down for safety of students about to embark on the new campus. Ms. Landry shared planting advice and suggestions for student participation to make donations for a new live oak tree to be planted at the school, an idea new Principal Daniel Desselle had also suggested.

Two-hundred-year-old live oak tree that stood proudly in front of the former Live Oak High School in Watson is taken down.

Two-hundred-year-old live oak tree that stood proudly in front of the former Live Oak High School in Watson is taken down.

Local resident Kevin Gleason and his wife Claudette heard the local news reports and their kids were among the last class on this campus and the first to graduate from the new high school. Kevin Gleason Jr. graduated in 2009, and Kaylee Gleason graduated in 2013. The Gleason family wanted to donate a 25-gallon tree along with LOHS Alum John Harvey III, owner of Harvey Electrical in Watson and Harrison Jones of Greener Spaces, who will plant it at the new location of Live Oak Junior High.
Meantime, as the tree was taken down, dozens of residents came by to take a piece home to share with others, like Live Oak graduates Dean and Ashley Erwin. Others decided to donate items made from the tree on many levels. Local resident Bobby McCarley is making commorative wooden writing pens from the tree bark. LOHS Alum David McAllister is teaming up with carving artist and sculpturist Burt Fleming for a special eagle carving from the trunk of the tree. South Live Oak gifted art teacher Kerry Curtin is working with his students using some broken china donated after the flood by former Live Oak Principal Patty Davis to create a giant mosaic of the tree. Assistant Superintendant of Livingston Parish Schools Joe Murphy is working on a surprise mural for the school of the legendary live oak tree.
Watson resident Shelly Strobel said on Facebook that her great-great grandfather had donated and planted the tree. Live Oak High School teacher and Athletic Coordinator Kathy Lentz Aucoin had the tree registered back in 2006, under the name “Eagle Pride.”
Hopefully, the soon-to-be-planted live oak tree will quickly put down some good roots at the newly renovated school campus and become “Eagle Pride 2,” creating a new beginning and new traditions on campus.

By Kellee Hennessy Dickerson