Best of America

Charlie Starbuck: Planting City Trees

Charlie StrabuckPaul Van Slambrouck/Christian Science Monitor

• Our hero: Charlie Starbuck, 74

• Where he lives: San Francisco, California

• How he helps: Planting city trees

Walk a block or two in almost any neighborhood in San Francisco and you can tell Charlie Starbuck has been there. His fingerprints might be on a Brisbane box tree, a bronze loquat, a primrose, or a purple leaf plum. Whatever the species of tree, chances are excellent that Starbuck put his hands in the dirt and helped plant it.

A softspoken gentleman fond of berets, Starbuck began noticing San Francisco’s dearth of trees after moving to the city in the 1960s. Through a friend, he heard about the citywide Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) tree-planting program and has been volunteering since 1981—almost 30 years of weekly plantings, without pay, come rain or shine.

“He’s our rock,” says Doug Wildman, program director of FUF.

The average tree planting is 30 trees per outing, though 60-and even 90-tree plantings occur from time to time. Starbuck acts as a guide and teacher to the homeowners and volunteers. “You change so much in one morning,” he says. “It’s an emotional high for me.”

In the past year, FUF planted some 1,000 new trees—with Starbuck’s help, of course. “He’s done it in such a modest way,” another volunteer, Michael Sullivan, says of Starbuck. “Week after week. He’s the Lou Gehrig of tree planting.”

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