Residents can stop asking what Homewood Public Works puts in the village’s hanging baskets and flower pots to create the stunning foliage throughout the community: It’s pixie dust.
Seriously, “It’s really an intensive maintenance thing. I can’t really say to go to so-and-so store, buy so-and-so product and your life will be good,” said Bryon Doerr, a maintenance worker who maintains the plantings. “It’s just not that simple. It really is a science.”
Both Doerr and his boss, Landscape Maintenance Supervisor Jim Tresouthick, were recently honored with awards for their work.
Tresouthick was named Forestry Professional of the Year by the Chicago Region Trees Initiative. It was formed in 2013 as a collection of communities, organizations and departments aiming to build a healthier and more diverse urban forest across the Chicago area by 2040.
Doerr was recognized by the Illinois Arborist Association (IAA) for his efforts at teaching and training other tree trimmers, landscapers and arborists throughout the South Suburbs. The association’s special recognition honored Doerr for “efforts in support of urban forestry and arboriculture.”
A big reason for Tresouthick’s recognition was his work with Homewood’s emerald ash borer beetle issues in recent years.
The Chicago (Region Trees Initiative) award was unexpected because there are so many people in this industry that are moving that ball forward,” Tresouthick said. “To single out any one of us is nice, but it’s a concerted effort.”
One of Tresouthick’s efforts was establishing field days to communicate how Homewood was combating the invasive insect and sharing the results of its research with other towns.
“We began educating the public in 2002 when Michigan first found the beetle. Nobody really knew what it was. It was not here, as of yet, but because of the proximity to the tollway and the railroad system and a number of other ways of moving, it was only a matter of time,” Tresouthick said.
“We got into gear and began educating that there was something on the horizon and we began compiling information on what it would cost and what, perhaps, the best management plan would be.”
Homewood did a forestry inventory and took down 2,582 trees. All have been replaced except for a few due to road expansions or other issues, Tresouthick said. The new trees are made up of 89 different varieties selected because of the local soil types and environments.
Homewood’s initiative is to intercept the insect and its damaging disease on community trees. No ash trees have been planted since 2002.
“We’re also trying to positively impact the lives of our residents, whether they understand what they’re looking at or not,” Tresouthick said. “We’re looking at texture of trees, color, flower, shape, size, a number of things so that we really enhance our green space so that it’s interesting instead of having a row of silver maple, which really is kind of dull.”
“I’m proud of the work that my crew has done,” he said. “This really is a team. It’s a family. Without them, I’m just pushing paper around a desk and answering phones.”
Tresouthick’s been with the village for 20 years. His background is in horticulture, arbor, park management and forestry. He also works for the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute as a wildfire fighter and instructor.
Doerr said receiving the IAA award “is flattering but getting the award, a big pat on the back, is not why I do it.” His focus is getting people to understand the importance of nature and how to professionally maintain it.
The IAA approached Doerr to teach about six years ago.
“(The South Suburbs) didn’t have any (certification or training classes),” Doerr said. “The neighboring communities and park districts really need to up their knowledge base and get more professionals out there. It’s lacking in the industry, in general. We can do a better job as far as safety goes, general awareness.”
He teaches classes twice a year in Homewood for as many as 25 staff members from municipalities and parks departments throughout the area.
Doerr, who wears many hats in the Public Works Department, has been with the village for about 10 years, including eight as a full-time employee. He’s one of four certified arborists on staff. Before that, he owned his own landscaping business.
“My background is mostly horticulture and landscape. Tree work is relatively new to me,” Doerr said. “I’m aware of how to adjust chemicals in the tanks, adjust fertilizers (for flowerbeds). That’s helped me greatly here.”
He has certificate degrees in landscape/design, turf management and nursery and greenhouse management.
Doerr and his team are working on a handful of landscaping projects around Homewood, including a recent project for the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program that included work starting near Balagio Ristorante at 175th and Dixie Highway going south along Dixie.
“Over time, the perennials died out, things came and went, so they wanted that restored,” Doerr said. “We picked out certain beds and areas to enhance that area, to re-landscape that area, everything from bulbs to trees and shrubs.
“We’re going to try to make that really eye-popping because that is a major corridor into Homewood. It’s something we want to kind of show off.”
The Public Works Department maintains about 13,000 parkway trees, about 67 acres of mowing, planters, weed control, dead animal and trash pick up, Tresouthick said.
Doerr and Tresouthick said they sometimes hear from residents who appreciate the work they do around the village. Emails, printed texts or social media posts and notes are displayed in the break room for the crew to see.
“A number of years ago, a questionnaire was circulated asking people why they stay in Homewood or what attracted them to the area. The trees were way up there,” Tresouthick said. “I think, for the most part, we and our residents have an appreciation for that resource.”