The Village of Arlington Heights' first certified arborist, who helped grow its urban forest from 20,000 to more than 35,000 trees, has died.
Erwin J. Page was hired in 1969 by former Village Manager Rudy Hansen to develop a forestry department and manage the more than 20,000 trees on village parkways. It was a job he held for nearly 20 years.
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Page died Sept. 14. He was 83.
He grew up in Chicago and went on to earn his degree in forestry in 1952 from Purdue University. After serving in the military after college, Page accepted his first job as a technical expert with the city of Chicago's Public Works Department.
"He had an offer to work at Yosemite (National Park), but he ultimately turned it down," his son-in-law, Jeff Steybe of Vernon Hills, said. "He was engaged at the time and didn't want have to uproot his family."
When he accepted the job of village forester in Arlington Heights, his biggest concern was rooting out Dutch elm disease on village parkways -- and convincing homeowners that the trees needed to be removed, he told the Daily Herald in a 1970 interview.
He described making daily rounds in his red truck through the village, examining the health and vitality of its trees.
"He used to say, 'If you can name a tree, I can remember it,'" his son-in-law said. "He had them all visually memorized."
Right from the start, Page established a 1:1 replacement program, replacing every tree that was removed. In the 1970 interview, he said the village stayed away from elm trees because of their being subject to disease, instead replacing them with hard maple, ash and locust trees.
Dru Sabatello, the village's current forester, was hired by Page. He credits his predecessor with establishing a department staffed with certified arborists and setting up tree replacement programs as well as good pruning cycles.
"He was a big advocate of maintaining our urban forest," Sabatello said.
Page also worked to stay current with other arborists through his involvement in the Northeast Municipal Foresters, which is now the municipal branch of the Illinois Arborist Association. Page served as president of the group and urged his colleagues to join.
The group met monthly and discussed everything from tree and planting policies, to tree hazard assessment, invasive insects and wood utilization.
Scott Shirley, Arlington Heights public works director, said Erwin's legacy has helped the village deal with today's emerald ash borer infestation.
"The policies and practices Erwin established laid the groundwork for the continued professional development of our forestry unit and its staff," Shirley said. "That professionalism has served the village well as we have faced challenges to our urban forest."
Page was preceded in death by his wife, Marceline "Marcie" Page, in 2011 and his daughter, Karen Steybe. Besides his son-in-law, he is survived by his grandchildren, Ann and Eric Steybe, all of Vernon Hills. A funeral Mass will take place at 10 a.m. Thursday, at St. Patrick Church, 991 S. Waukegan Road, in Lake Forest.