City Arbor Day celebrates trees and the community

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By Brian Beckley-The Courier-Herald

The city of Bonney Lake last week celebrated Arbor Day by planting two new trees and dedicating benches to two community members who died in the past year.

Connie Leaf, mother of Community Services Director Gary Leaf, was honored with a cherry tree while Robert Ceola, a long-time regular at city council meetings who was instrumental in making Bonney Lake a Tree City, USA, was honored with a western red cedar.

The city also announced the Robert Ceola memorial Arbor Day Award, which will be presented in the future to the person or group who plants the most trees throughout the city.

“He was Mr. Arbor Day, let's admit it” said Councilwoman Cheryle Noble, admitting she almost called the tree a “western red Ceola.”

Council members and city staff were all familiar with Ceola, whose jovial nature and simple aw-shucks mannerisms often betrayed a Columbo-like wit and intelligence when he spoke on city issues. Even when he would disagree with the council, Noble said he would “disagree positively” and often present an issue in a new light, such as when he brought in stacks of cups for his discussion of fees for toilet flushes at businesses.

“He was a man of many contradictions,” Noble said. “We always enjoyed listening to Bob's perspective.”

Even Mayor Neil Johnson said Ceola's mannerisms and humor has stuck with him to the point that he now always calls the national chain of discount retailers “Wally Mart,” as Ceola always did.

Noble said she first got to know Ceola while planning a 2004 protest over the proposed development of the WSU Demonstration Forest. She said Ceola was passionate about protecting trees and was an active birdwatcher. In his yard, he planted trees for each member of the council, including a Noble fir for Noble herself.

“I want Bob remembered as a stalwart tree lover,” she said.

Though she did not technically live within city limits, Johnson said honoring Connie Leaf was a way to thank both her and her son for their commitment to the community.

“She's Gary's mom and Gary is a part of the city,” he said.

Leaf thanked the mayor and the council and related a story of Martin Luther, who was asked what he would do if he found out the world would end the next day.

“I'd plant a tree,” Luther said.

“I think mom would be real pleased,” a smiling Leaf said.

Johnson said in the future he would like to dedicate more benches and trees around the city and called tlast week's ceremony “a good start.”

“It's a fitting way to honor two people that have done a lot for the city,” he said.

The new benches and trees are at Ballfield Four, across from Allan Yorke Park.

Brian Beckley can be reached at

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