Tree replaces bedpost to stick gum

Thursday, March 14, 2002

Gum sticks to a lot of things -- bedposts, shoes, sidewalks. And trees -- especially the "gum tree" on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University.

The tree, Monday's photo puzzler on the "Faces & Places" page, is not even a distant cousin of the gum tree family.

The tree is a gawky redbud. It's actually the second-generation gum tree at the university. The first redbud tree, planted in the 1960s, was dotted with thousands of pieces of well-chewed gum when it was vandalized in the late 1980s. But more about that later.

No one knows when the first gum-smacking student planted a wad of gum on the tree atop what students call "cardiac hill," but it didn't take long for the practice to catch on.

Today, more than four decades later, the tree is a monument to Spearmint, Juicy Fruit and Double Bubble.

The tree's claim to fame includes a mention in Ripley's "Believe It or Not." Jewell Eggley remembers reading about the tree in the old St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

"The tree was featured in the Ripley column," Eggley said. "You'd have to agree -- it is unusual."

"I put gum on the tree when I was at the university 20 years ago," said John Gabler, who resides in Jackson, Mo.

Brenda Friese said the tree is a campus landmark probably established by students who walked up the long, exhausting hill and had no more energy to chew gum. They just stuck it on the tree.

Back in the 1960s there was another probable reason the tree began to sprout gum -- chewing gum in class was frowned upon by professors.

Sue Meyer, who resided on Alta Vista Drive, a nearby residential street, for a number of years, is also familiar with the tree. Monica Waldon recalled that her 8-year-old daughter passed by the tree on the way to piano lessons at Brandt Hall. "When she was younger, she always wanted to touch the gum," Waldon said. "Thankfully, she doesn't want to anymore!"

Kenny Sides admits to "putting a couple of gum markers on the tree." Ditto, Thomas M. Meyer, who added that he wondered how students got their gum affixed to the tree's highest branches. Mary Lou Rutherford, of Millersville, Mo., wondered the same thing, but added that "students can do about anything."

Retired university professor Michael Chareck recalled the original gum tree. "It looked normal except for mushroom-looking wads of gum," he said. The vandals who cut down the original gum tree in October 1989 eluded the sticky fingers of justice.

Records show the idea to replace the fallen tree came from Ken Leffelmann, vice president of the "Re-Emergents," a non-traditional student club that existed at the university in the late 1980s.

A ceremony was held to mark the planting of gum tree No. 2, donated by Franke's Countryside Landscape Nursery of Jackson. It was regulation all the way.

Those in attendance were given pieces of Super Bubble.

The celebrants dutifully chewed the Super Bubble into a gooey mass before appropriately christening the tree.

If you want a closer look at the gum tree, or if you have a piece of chewing gum that's lost its flavor overnight, the tree is located at the intersection of Alta Vista Drive and Pacific Street.

The search is on

The opening of the Mississippi River bridge in 1928 was not without fanfare. The celebration included a contest to choose a bridge queen. Agatha Mumma was chosen from a court of 12 young women representing communities from throughout the area.

A Feb. 2 Southeast Missourian article featured one member of the queen's court, Lillian English of Cape Girardeau. The former Edith Compas read that article with great interest. She, too, was a member of the queen's court. Michael Schott noted in a letter to the editor that his mother contacted English to share recollections of the event. Schott said his mother "recalled the winners were determined by popular vote at a penny apiece." His mother recalled the money was used to help pay for the elaborate queen's court float.

"Mother would be interested in knowing how many of the 12 queen candidates are still living," Schott wrote.

We would too. We would enjoy hearing from any of the original candidates, what they're doing now, what they recall about the bridge opening and if they plan to attend the opening of the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge. Let us know.

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