A Camden couple, married 25 years ago at the Vesper Children's Chapel in Rockport, returned to the grounds this year to donate their services to care for a magnificent Tri-Color Beech tree.

The crowning of the tree to preserve and beautify the Tri-Color Beech was done by TREEKEEPERS LLC owners, Douglas N. Johnson and Nancy Caudle-Johnson.

The tree originally planted by a member of the Bok family was doing so well, it was dominating the landscape and still growing, Doug explained.

Crowning brings down the height of the tree and cuts back the side branches all the way around. This creates a nice rounded shape, Doug explained, and will keep the size of the tree reduced so it will fit in with the landscape surrounded by flowers and lawn, he said.

Nancy likened the tree, and the chapel on the rise above it, as "a little like a marriage, more or less intertwined. It would be a shame if the tree wasn't there. It would just be a bare chapel," she said.

In June 1994, when they were married in that chapel, they had already chosen Camden as their home and were embarking on a new life together and a new business, caring for trees. Officiating at the wedding was Nancy's good friend Helen Nearing, who with her husband Scott, left city life during the Depression years to homestead in Vermont and Maine, and in the 1960s and 70s inspired the back-to-the-land movement in Maine.

Before Nancy and Doug moved to Camden, she was living in Blue Hill and he lived in Lincolnville. They looked for a place to rent together and ended up buying a home in Camden. Nancy had already had one career and wanted to begin another one, with Doug, who knew everything about trees, she said. The year they married, they settled on a business idea.

"We invented it [TREEKEEPERS LLC] so it would work for both of us and suit both of us, Nancy said. "We had to work out a lot of things, as couples do. It's a great feeling now to think that we've done it. It's just amazing, isn't it?" she said.

In a sense, the "crowning" of the Tri-Color Beech, known for its leaves outlined in pink and filled in with green and red, exemplifies the couple's work and life these past 25 years.

As owners of TREEKEEPERS, they donated the work, as they have done for many years for not-for-profit organizations, as well as Maine towns. The pruning was done by a staff of employees who hand-climbed the tree. This is their regular business practice, because it keeps heavy equipment off sensitive landscapes and tree roots and reduces air pollution. This work is done by insured and safety-trained employees, including licensed Utility Arborists and Landscape Arborists

Nancy said that an expert on trees in Maine thought the Tri-Color might be one of the largest of its kind in the state. Before the crowning, Doug took measurements of the tree's height, girth and spread of the branches from side-to-side to submit the tree as a possible state champion. The couple have discovered several state champions and if they find a new contender, they will submit that information for the Maine Register of Big Trees.

As it turns out, the couple celebrated more than two 25th anniversaries in 2019.

This year, the State of Maine chose to hold Maine's Arbor Day ceremony in Camden. As part of the annual Arbor Day event, the state recognizes the towns in Maine that qualify for Tree City USA designation. The celebration and recognitions coincided with Camden's 25th year as a Tree City USA, which Nancy helped to initiate.

She first heard about the Tree City program in 1994, when she and Doug were serving on the Maine Forestry Council. Within one year, Nancy helped put in place what was needed for Camden to qualify as a Tree City, working with the Select Board, town officials, the Camden Conservation Commission and Tree Warden, Bart Wood. The requirements include an ordinance, an annual proclamation by town government, the formation of a Tree Board and a two-dollar per capita expenditure on trees by the town.

Each year, for the past 25 years, Nancy took on responsibility for creating an Arbor Day ceremony and a program in Camden. This year, she invited private individuals and town officials to be recognized at the event, which took place at the Camden Public Library.

When the couple chose Camden as the place to live, they found themselves in a community deeply dedicated to planting and caring for trees. The Camden Garden Club, and Beede Parker, were active in a program that offered trees to property owners for a third of the cost, with the other two-thirds paid for by the town and the Garden Club. Parker and also the Boy Scouts were trying to replant a stronger variant of the elm tree, to replace many in Camden lost to disease. The Garden Club had planted many trees in those years, Doug said.

One year, MBNA New England executive Shane Flynn helped the town obtain a very large grant to plant trees near the street in property owners' yards. The first two trees planted were Callery pears, at the law offices of Calderwood and Gibbons, on Washington Street, across from the town office. So many trees were planted that year, that demand for trees went down for a while afterwards, Doug explained.

Over the past 25 years, TREEKEEPERS LLC has worked closely with Dave Jackson, of the Camden Public Library, who oversees the Amphitheatre and Harbor Park, to repair or replant damaged or diseased trees, and they have donated street shade trees to the town.

Both love Camden, for the people, the location, the community dedication to civic life and to trees, and for the beautiful parks created by the Bok family, and maintained by the town these many years.