A Very Live Oak

Georgia's 'Village Sentinel' Towers over Retirement Community

The Village Sentinel in Waycross, Ga.

hide captionGeorgia's champion live oak, The Village Sentinel, spreads its massive arms across a rural retirement community.

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Ketzel Levine, NPR News
Henrietta Lewis

hide captionBrimming with stories about the tree, Henrietta Lewis says she and the Village Sentinel go back a very long time.

Ketzel Levine, NPR News

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In wheelchairs and motorized scooters, on walkers and canes, the residents of Baptist Village head for the great expanse of the Village Sentinel. The mighty oak tree is the steady heartbeat of this retirement community in southern Georgia, where NPR's Ketzel Levine recently visited to meet the giant, and collect stories about the tree. The report is the last in a Morning Edition series, Big Trees and the Lives They've Changed.

"The Village Sentinel and I are old friends," says Henrietta Lewis. "We're both antiques." Lewis is one of several residents whose memories of the oak go back to the 1920s, when, as a girl, she would climb the tree. The Village Sentinel has stood for at least three centuries: first in a forest, then in a field, later on what became prison grounds, and what is now Baptist Village in Waycross, Ga.

Called a "live oak" because it's always green, this Quercus virginiana is Georgia's National Champion — the biggest of its kind in the state. It is approximately 80 feet high and 35 feet around, with a crown spread of 160 feet, stretching over an area the size of a ballroom. Multi-branched, muscular and formidable, Levine reports, "it wears its foliage like Atlas draped in green."

Two Baptist Village residents, Bryant and Lillie Leveritt, have written a booklet about the tree's history. In it, they include a poem by south Georgia poet laureate, the Rev. Theodore Forsythe. It begins:

In old sunny southern Georgia, by a country road there stands

A great wide fung oak tree that has shaded many clans;

And through the leaves, the wind blows with a soft and mournful sigh,

As it soothes the weary traveler with a low, sweet lullaby.

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