Sunday, April 25, 2021

Olaf Ribeiro decorated as "Champion of Trees"


Dr Olaf Ribeiro, Champion of Trees


Background and introduction for the proclamation agenda bill


In Recognition of Dr. Olaf Ribeiro: Dedicated Bainbridge Island Volunteer and Consummate Teacher and Storyteller


Dr. Olaf Ribeiro is one of those rare gems of a human being who makes the world a better place.  He certainly deserves to be recognized for his years of service and dedication to Bainbridge Island and its citizens, including the trees.  Among his many services to the community was his time spent saving historic trees, such as the Blakely Japanese Maple, and teaching through his Bainbridge Historical Museum Historic Tree Tours and nature walks.  He guided fungi tours at IslandWood that could lead even the uncertain neophyte to an incredible understanding and appreciation for these amazing life forms.  He would gleefully--yes, gleefully!--step into the woods to measure trees for tour participants and invite them to help and learn how to age trees.  He shared wonderful stories of his misadventures of missteps taken in the woods leading to unfortunate injuries, all while smiling.  He shared inspiring, heartwarming stories of researchers discovering cures for disease among the beloved trees and fungi of the world.  Through every moment on a walk in the woods, Olaf's passion for his work and phenomenal knowledge and expertise would shine through.  During his guided walks, his laugh would ring through the forest like the seemingly endless rings of an old growth tree! 


Bainbridge Island is a more beautiful place for all the trees Olaf planted and fought to protect, for his lifetime of dedication, and for all the children and adults who have been inspired by his enthusiasm.  I am grateful to those of you who have chosen to honor Dr. Olaf Ribeiro for his service to our community.


Thank you,

Christine Perkins

Bainbridge Island


Historic cherry trees moved from Bainbridge High School to Sakai Middle School

From Dr. Olaf Ribeiro’s book, Historic, Champion & Unique Trees of Bainbridge Island, WA, published in 2019:

Cherry Trees (Prunus var. Kwanzan):

These trees are located at Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School - 9343 NE Sportsman Club Road and can be seen on the hillside above the parking lot.  In 1933, they were planted by the Japanese, Issei (first generation) at Bainbridge High School, to honor the first class of graduating Nisei (second generation) from Bainbridge High School. These trees were a majestic sight in spring when their blossoms were much admired. In 2006 the school superintendent let it be known that the trees were in danger of being removed since they were in the way of the proposed new High School Auditorium. The cost of moving them to another location was considered prohibitive. With the help of island historian Gerry Elfendahl and arborist Olaf Ribeiro, a campaign was launched to save the historic cherry trees. With a very generous donation from islander Sue Cooley, saving the trees became a reality. An arborist crew from Seattle was brought over to help move them to the hillside at Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School with the cooperation of the principal Joann Van der Stoep. The arborists worked tirelessly to accomplish the move over a weekend. … Kay Nakao, a daughter of one of the students who originally planted the trees, was present to see the move accomplished. She was present in 1935 when her father was one of those who planted the trees. It was a very emotional moment for her as she recalled the original plantings and the effort that was made to save the trees. To quote Kay Nakao “It is something special that every season when the blossom blooms, we have “hanami” or flower viewing. It is a feeling hard to describe – of peace and an appreciation of beauty”

The trees presented a technical challenge since they were going to be transplanted in May, at flowering time. …. For Olaf Ribeiro, the arborist in charge of the move, the challenge was well worth it since it was important to save the trees to keep Island traditions and history alive.

 The moving of these trees to their present location generated much local interest. A selection of some of the comments is given below:

April 14, 2007: Bainbridge Review: History faces the ax. Activists hope to save cherry trees in the way of BHS expansion. “Ribeiro along with island historian Gerry Elfendahl, members of the nonprofit Kitsap Trees and Shoreline Association and a small group of students are scrambling to save the trees. Lacking time and money, the group is looking for all the help they can get

 May 17, 2007: Kitsap Sun: Volunteers Dig In for a long Day to save historic cherry trees. “Sakai Intermediate School is the proud owner of three historically significant trees, after an all-day effort by a couple of dozen workers and a small army of supporters.

The transfer from Bainbridge High School was an all-day project. Island arborist Olaf Ribeiro called the transfer a big success”

  May 19, 2007: Bainbridge Islander: Island cherry trees to be spared from the ax: “Sue Cooley of Bainbridge Island has made a donation to have three cherry trees at Bainbridge High School moved to nearby Sakai Intermediate School”.

 May 30, 2007: Bainbridge Review: Tree effort brought out best in Island.  A letter to the Review by Clarence Moriwaki expressing gratitude for saving the trees....” a tree weaves a story, a history of time. Look up and listen and together you’ll climb”.

 May 14, 2008: Bainbridge Review: A Celebration of Cherry Trees. Gerald Elfendahl wrote a column on the successful celebration of the First Annual Cherry Blossom Festival. “Students played Japanese folk songs and shared haiku read aloud and artistically written on decorated paper that fluttered among the blossoms. One read, “Pink blossom, softly swaying in the wind, floating in puddles”. No puddles this day – though maybe a few happy tears! Eagles and billowing white clouds like giant blossoms filled a sunny sky ........”


Previous awards and recognition for Olaf include:


·         History Hero Award from the Bainbridge Historical Museum.

·         Hometown Hero Award by the Bainbridge Symphony Orchestra.

·         Environmentalist Award – Assoc. of Bainbridge Communities 2015

·         Education Award   International Society of Arboriculture, PNW Chapter. 2010

·         Wall Street Journal front page article – Oct. 13, 2006. God Can Make Tree, But Olaf Ribeiro Can Save its Life.

·         NBC Today Show- July 17, 2007.  Tree Doc – An American Story. Bob Dotson.

·         Featured on Channel 5 Evening Magazine for saving historic cherry trees. October 2007. 

·         Cherry Blossom Award by the Consul General of Japan for work in saving historic cherry trees. April 18, 2008

·         Featured as one of the Island Stewards in the book, In Praise of Island Stewards by Joel Sackett. 1998. 





In Recognition of Dr. Olaf Ribeiro,

Champion of Trees

City of Bainbridge Island, Washington State

A Proclamation declaring May 17th as Dr. Olaf Ribeiro Day on Bainbridge Island; affirming the community’s appreciation of Dr. Olaf Ribeiro, Champion of Trees, and his work on behalf of Bainbridge Island’s community forests inspired by his profound knowledge of the many ecological, cultural, and economic benefits trees and forests provide to the community, the region, and humans worldwide.

Status: Draft

Date introduced to City Council:

Date to be taken up by the City Council:
City Council Sponsors: Rasham Nassar and Christy Carr


Proclamation _________________

A Proclamation declaring May 17th as Dr. Olaf Ribeiro Day on Bainbridge Island; affirming the community’s appreciation of Dr. Olaf Ribeiro, Champion of Trees, and his work on behalf of Bainbridge Island’s community forests inspired by his profound knowledge of the many ecological, cultural, and economic benefits trees and forests provide to the community, the region, and humans worldwide.

WHEREAS, Olaf was first introduced to plants by his mother in Kenya: he became curious about trees and “how they managed to grow so big and survive so many years”; growing up, he observed the universal appeal of trees for their calming effect on people; over years spent gaining advanced degrees in Plant Pathology, saw that there were few experts who possessed his expert knowledge and dedication to saving trees; and

WHEREAS, while Dr. Olaf Ribeiro’s appreciation for trees is rooted in science, it also has aesthetic, historical, and spiritual dimensions; and


WHEREAS, Olaf was born in Nairobi, Kenya, in a family originally from Goa, India; he attended the Technical High School in Nairobi, went to England to complete a pre-college curriculum, and returned to Egerton Agricultural College in Kenya; sponsored by an Agency for International Development scholarship, he earned Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Plant Pathology at West Virginia University; between 1972 and 1981 he was a Faculty Research Associate at the University of California, Riverside; he became a world authority on the pathogen Phytophthora, which in many different species afflicts both food stocks and forests; and


WHEREAS, in California, focused first on diseases afflicting citrus and avocado crops, Olaf’s interests gradually shifted to forests and the growth, longevity, and morbidity of trees, contributing to a decision to move to Bainbridge Island in 1981; and

WHEREAS, in 1991 Bainbridge Island would be incorporated as a city and embrace the stewardship principles promoted by Olaf and other Islanders; and

WHEREAS, over the years, Olaf’s devotion to the protection of trees on Bainbridge Island would put him at odds with development interests, he would continue to be an irrepressible defender of trees and all that remains of the natural environment; and

WHEREAS, Olaf would work in the late 1990s to successfully advocate for the retention of the large red oak and chestnut trees at Harbor Square, both of which would be designated Heritage Trees by the City in 2000, and in 2002 would rescue a large maple tree when the Martinique was demolished on Eriksen Avenue, moving it to Bainbridge Performing Arts; and

WHEREAS, Olaf would co-found the Murden Cove Preservation Association, dedicated to environmental protection, and was a member of the City’s first Forestry Commission; and

WHEREAS, in 2002 Olaf would be featured in photographer Joel Sackett’s book, In Praise of Island Stewards, where he would say, “The rapid development of previously forested areas around the world is destroying our fragile ecosystems.  Saving trees has become urgent and of paramount importance.  Being a ‘tree steward’ is sometimes difficult, as the recent decision to down the maples on Winslow Way East illustrates.  Trees evoke strong emotions in each one of us.  Nevertheless, I continue to work to inform urban communities along the West Coast, through lectures, writings, and on-site visits, on the need for trees in our lives.”

WHEREAS, on May 17, 2007 Olaf would help move historic cherry trees displaced by construction at Bainbridge High School to Sonoji Sakai Middle School.  The trees were planted in 1933 by the Island’s Japanese American Issei (first generation) to honor the first class of graduating Nisei (second generation) from Bainbridge High School and can now be seen on the hillside above the Sakai middle school parking lot; and

WHEREAS, for several years Olaf would lead heritage tree walks in Winslow to share his knowledge and appreciation of trees with the community; and

WHEREAS, Olaf was an inspiration and contributor to the 2019 City of Bainbridge Island Resolution, Celebrate Trees Earth Month Bainbridge Island, which includes: WHEREAS, the citizens of Bainbridge Island recognize that the forests of Bainbridge Island have existed here for many thousands of years, providing habitat for a diverse community of plants and animals, as well as for the area’s first inhabitants, purifying the air and water; and supporting a rich diversity of life; and

WHEREAS,  In 2019, Olaf worked with the school district and community members to save the Japanese maple at Blakely Elementary School from destruction by raising the funds and coordinating the work to have the tree moved from the path of redevelopment and placed at the entrance to the new school where it is a centerpiece of the new landscaping and a joy to observe in every season; and

WHEREAS, during a speech in recognition of Olaf in February of 2019 at the Bainbridge Historical Museum the following was said: Dr Ribeiro walks his own talk every day as he collaborates with groups and individuals to think about intentional growth, lobbies City Hall for stronger protections for trees, plants saplings in our public parks, and like a mad-scientist, mixes up microbe-mycelial cocktails to save heritage trees in Downtown Winslow by healing their root systems. His generosity is bar-none. He gives from his heart, he's tenacious, and most importantly he loves Bainbridge Island.

… His expertise, generosity of spirit and humor inspire us every day”; and

WHEREAS, for the past three decades Dr. Olaf Ribeiro has been a tireless inspiration to citizens and city officials alike, saving and healing trees, and sharing his love and knowledge of trees, and in so doing contributing to the creation of progressive policies and regulations to protect trees and the natural environment: NOW, THEREFORE,


The City Council of the City of Bainbridge Island declares May 17th to be Dr. Olaf Ribeiro, Champion of Trees, Day on Bainbridge Island.

Adopted by the City Council the ____ day of ____________________, 2021, and signed by me in open session in authentication of its adoption this________ day

of ______________________, 2021.


Mayor ___________of the Bainbridge Island City Council



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