If ever you thought you could not change the world, you will especially enjoy today’s story. Born in 1922, Scott was a lousy student who barely graduated from high school. But he enjoyed working outdoors with his dad planting and maintaining trees and shrubs at farms and orchards and he fell in love with the beauty of nature.
During World War ll, Scott served in the U.S. Coast Guard but when the war ended in 1945, he had no direction, although he did have the G.I. Bill to pay for his education. That is he had no direction until 1948 when on a blind date, he met Clarli and the following year they were married.
With responsibilities that eventually included a son and daughter, Scott made something special of himself; graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1950 at the age of 28 with a degree in horticulture and he became a Los Angeles area high school teacher. He later earned Master’s Degrees in agricultural education and landscape architecture from other universities.
For the next 30 plus years, Scott taught at Eagle Rock High School near his home, at Crenshaw High School in the inner city and at North Hollywood High School in the San Fernando Valley.
A passionate and devoted teacher, Scott’s students learned from him about the environment starting long before the environment became a popular topic and he shared with them his love for the outdoors and the immense beauty of trees, flowers and other plantings. He involved many of them in landscaping their schools and their homes and in growing vegetable gardens to help feed their families and other families in their communities.
Who paid for this? Scott did as he donated plants, mulch, picks and shovels and water buckets and everything else. And many of his students came to share his fascination with the beauty of nature, as they saw their trees grow and their flowers bloom in reds, yellows, blues and purples. They also enjoyed fresh vegetables beyond anything they had ever eaten from a supermarket.
Scott related most easily to his troubled students for he at one time had been one of them, and he reached out to those most at risk, including gang members, believing they could have a far better future if something inspired them, as nature has a magical way of doing.
In 1982 Scott retired from teaching, but he never stopped assisting students and he used his time to become more actively involved in landscaping, vowing to plant at least 5 trees each day for as long as he lived. And he did exactly that, personally planting trees, sometimes in the most barren and unforgiving plots of land, beautifying communities every place he went.
This worked so well, that Scott approached community leaders throughout the Los Angeles area to encourage them to beautify their neighborhoods and to clean the smoggy air by planting trees and flowering shrubs on weed strewn waste lands, street medians and along sidewalks.
He also approached school officials, many of whom had school grounds of asphalt and cement as far as the eye could see and encouraged them as well to break up some of that hardscape and replace it with trees and gardens.
And for the many people that claimed not to have the money or manpower to get the job done, can you guess who paid for it on a retired school teacher’s pension and whose organizing skills brought him and other volunteers together to make it happen?
In 1982, Scott approached his Eagle Rock neighbor, Occidental College and with their support and that of numerous volunteers brought in 700 baby trees, shovels, water buckets, etc. and landscaped a large adjoining hillside, with trees natural to the area and with the understanding they would receive care by the college’s students. It became and is a great success.
Scott continued this process one project here and another project there, many of them tiny ones. But as was done at Occidental College, he wanted to do this on a grand scale. In 1989, 67 year old Scott started North East Trees (NET), a non-profit organization to employ at risk youth to join with volunteers to do it.
“We hire the youth who live in poverty driven areas of Los Angeles,” said NET Executive Director Mark Kenyon. ”And we provide them a job, but not just a job. We educate them about plants, animals and water and the importance of natural eco systems. What this does is take them off the street and it gives them an education and a paycheck.”
NET employs them by getting government and private industry landscaping projects. Currently it employs 30 of these young people and it does $3 to $4 million a year in business.
Among NET’s projects is one helping the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s 2nd largest District, school by school, to break up vast paved school yards, but still leaving plenty of paved areas for children to play while offering them lovely shade trees, as a respite from the heat of the California sun. In addition, NET provides beautiful flower and vegetable gardens the latter of which let the children learn to grow some of their own food.
“In at least 100 schools; we’ve landscaped and planted gardens,” said NET’s Mark Kenyon. “And we’ve built at least 50 parks, including 20 some odd parks along the Los Angeles River.” In all of its projects, NET has planted over 70,000 trees and “10 times that number of shrubs,” he added.
As for Scott Wilson, who brought all of this about, in November, 2011, he was clipping some red flowers from a tree in his yard to offer his church, when he fell from the ladder, seemingly having had a heart attack, and he passed away at the age of 89. He is survived by his wife Clarli and by their son and daughter.
But Scott is also survived by the many students he taught over the years and by the volunteers and the employees of NET as well as by the vast beautification his plantings have brought to the Los Angeles area. And it all began with him, one simple man, determined to personally plant just 5 little trees a day.