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Rebirth of a landmark tree

Barbara Rerecich befriends the monkey puzzle tree that replaced one she planted in the same spot on Ericksen Avenue in the 1960s, behind what is now the Virginia Mason Clinic.    - Tom Haggar photo
Barbara Rerecich befriends the monkey puzzle tree that replaced one she planted in the same spot on Ericksen Avenue in the 1960s, behind what is now the Virginia Mason Clinic.
— image credit: Tom Haggar photo

The monkey puzzle specimen on Ericksen Ave. takes root anew.

Every tree has a story, but the tale behind the new monkey puzzle tree on Ericksen Avenue is a bit more prickly than most.

The tree took root behind the Virginia Mason Clinic on Tuesday, replacing a larger version of itself that died after construction along Ericksen a few years ago.

The city at that time made a special effort to preserve the tree by winding the new sidewalk around its roots, to no avail. Island plant pathologist Olaf Ribeiro said the tree had been healthy prior to the construction.

“We tried, but it couldn’t be saved,” said Tom Haggar, owner of the clinic and former funeral home properties and provider of the replacement tree.

Haggar bought the property where the tree was planted several years ago on the condition that it not be cut down until the previous owner, Barbara Rerecich, died.

As it turned out, she outlived the tree, and Haggar was happy to replace it.

“So many people enjoyed that tree,” he said. “Tourists used to stop to have there picture taken beneath it.”

But the story of the tree really began in the 1960s, when Rerecich, who at the time ran a funeral home on the property, received the tree as a gift from a woman whose husband had died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

A short time after the man was buried, new evidence surfaced that prompted police to exhume the body for a new autopsy, which determined the cause of death to be murder.

The killer was never caught, but the widow was so grateful for Rerecich’s assistance that she presented her with a potted monkey tree.

Rerecich kept the tree in its pot for awhile, but planted it outside near the street as it gradually outgrew the funeral home.

It was once moved a short distance, but sat in essentially the same spot until last Sunday, when it had to be removed for good.

“I cried tears when I saw it was dying,” Rerecich said. “But Tom did everything you could imagine to save it.”

After a long period of searching, Haggar got a call from a company in Snohomish that said they had the perfect replacement.

Rerecich said she “loves” the new tree, and was there to help put it in the ground this past Tuesday.

“She took great pride in the old tree,” Haggar said. “It was special that she could be there to plant the new one.”

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