When she was a child, Pet Smith’s mother took her on many walks through the Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine.

“She loved the area,” says Smith, remembering her late mother Vietta Mickus, who lived in Palatine all of her life. “It was her back yard. She knew it like the back of her hand.”

A homemaker who was eagerly served her community over the years, Mickus died in March 2015, a few weeks before her 95th birthday.

Wanting a special way to memorialize Mickus, Smith’s daughter Carrie, who lives in California, contacted the Forest Preserve Foundation about its tree donation program. The family decided to have a tree planted in the Deer Grove Forest Preserve. Located in northwestern Cook County, Deer Grove is on land first acquired by the Forest Preserve District in 1916.

Smith also recalls another shared activity with her mother in the area. “Every Mother’s Day, we would take hike through Deer Grove to look at the wild flowers,” she says.

“A tree was such a perfect memorial because my mother was born in Deer Grove. Her father was the original caretaker of Deer Grove and built the caretaker house, and that is the house where mom was born. She would be very happy that we’ve added to the forest preserve,” Smith says.

The family selected a basswood tree because of its heart-shaped leaves. Basswoods, also known as the American linden tree, have a dense canopy and large, sturdy trunk and summer flowers with a pleasing fragrance that is irresistible to butterflies and bees. They tend to live about 150 years.

Pet Smith and her husband at an Arbor Day event.
Pet Smith and her husband at an Arbor Day event.

On Arbor Day in April, the Foundation recognized the Smiths and their donation. Pet and her husband were invited to tell their story, and they helped kids plant trees at the Clayton F. Smith Preserves, often simply called “Bunker Hill.”

When summer comes, Smith and her own daughter will “ride our bikes over to visit the tree.”

“It’s wonderful that the Foundation makes this possible,” Smith says.

If you want more information on dedicating a tree in the Forest Preserves, please call 312-603-8349.

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