By Margie Wuebker
CARTHAGENA -- St. Charles Center is in the midst of overwhelming change as workmen focus their efforts on the creation of 55 apartments for independent senior living from space once used to house and educate young men for the priesthood. The farm and dairy operation will cease at year's end with the land being rented to area farmers.
And the most noticeable change of all is taking place now as elm trees lining the front driveway along U.S. 127 are being felled to make way for new plantings.
"The trees are no longer in good shape," says the Rev. James Seibert, center director. "The ice storm earlier this year nearly did them in."
Officials of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood decided in the mid-1930s to plant two rows of elm trees along the main driveway. The imposing entrance, which replaced a previous one fronting state Route 274, seemed more fitting for the main building constructed in 1922.
The Rev. Arnold Meiring, who currently resides in the infirmary at St. Charles, was among a group of seminarians known as "the garden gang" who did the work. "I have my suspicions that somebody donated all those elm trees," the 90-year-old Fort Recovery native says. "Some type of blight had struck elm trees, and people were no longer buying them."
The seminarians planted more than a hundred 9- to 10-foot trees in the course of several spring days. European Elm formed the inside rows while Chinese Elm were placed in the outside rows.
"It made for a rather imposing entrance for residents and visitors," Meiring says. "Those trees grew nicely and passers-by soon considered them a local landmark."
Dutch Elm Blight killed the European variety but left the Chinese ones unscathed.
Brother Don Fisher was part of the crew assigned to fell the diseased trees. Decades have passed but he still chuckles at the memory of felling one tree in particular.
"I looked to the left and I looked to the right before buzzing the tree," he says. "I noticed Father George Pax's picture-perfect 1949 Studebaker as the tree fell. He parked the car intending to watch but wound up becoming part of the action."
Then a tornado traveled along the driveway nine years ago and damaged some of the remaining trees. The ice storm dealt the final blow.
"First the tornado and then the ice storm," Fisher says with a sigh. "The one-two punch really put the hurting on the trees."
The brothers started felling trees in late February, beginning at the far end of the stand to the left of the paved driveway. Employees of Dues Lumber Mill near Philothea took over the task using heavy equipment to push limbs onto a huge brush pile and load salvagable trunks. The left row of trees is gone and work will begin soon on felling the 29 trees in the right-hand row.
"The wood is not going to waste," Seibert says. "Usable trunks will yield lumber for the construction of pallets for use by businesses throughout the area."
Red Sunset hard maple trees, standing 9 to 10 feet tall, will border the driveway in the future.
"I suppose the fellas doing the planting will use mechanical equipment and that takes away all the fun," Meiring says with a chuckle. "Maple trees are a mighty fine choice -- they will last long after you and I are gone."