By Carol Stiffler
Ruth Dake, who left this world on June 12, also left behind a large legacy in forestry and conservation.
Dake, who lived just outside Newberry in Pentland Township, owned and managed a massive 277 acres in Luce County, mostly forested, including 90 acres of hushed, beautiful red pine.
She and her husband, Paul, inherited the land when they married, and began active oversight of its health and success more than 65 years ago.
“They began active management of their woodlands in 1955, when Mother was only 23 and Dad was only 24,” said Dr. Paul Dake, the eldest of their 10 children.
Their management was intentional and active from the start.
Soil samples revealed the ground was depleted, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources suggested planting pine trees, even though any future financial gain would be a long way off.
The Dakes tackled the project. With red pine seedlings and a planting machine, all supplied free by the DNR, they planted 10,000 red pines per year for eight years in a row.
“He had to borrow a John Deere B tractor from a friend, who drove the tractor while Dad sat on the planter and inserted a seedling into the furrow every time a bell was rung by a small metal shaft on the wheel of the planter,” Paul said.
The young trees flourished, and the entire Dake family was involved in the success of the effort.
“They always spoke of ‘the trees’ as their income when they retired, and at least once a week, we were taken on a ride to inspect them,” Paul said.
On one inspection, they noticed a worm infestation had spread from a neighboring property, and all the kids were dispersed into the pines to inspect and spray treatment to kill the worms.
The family thinned the pine trees when advised by their consultant forester, with the wood being sold to be used as pulp for making various paper products, allowing the remaining trees to grow faster. The extensive pre-existing hardwood stands were also thinned every summer, for use as firewood, amounting to 100 face cord every year.
The Dakes were noticed for their work. They were named Michigan Tree Farmer of the Year in 1985, and again in 1995, six years after the death of Ruth’s husband, the senior Paul Dake.
They received the 1990 Michigan Educational Tree Farmer of the Year recognition and, also in 1995, Ruth received the Conservation District Conservationist of the Year award.
Ruth was the subject of articles in the Michigan Forest Association’s newsletters, as well as locally in The Newberry News, and was well known in the forestry and conservation fields. People in the forestry industry described her as a “spunky lady with a big heart.”
Her passing was acknowledged in various publications and by specialists like MSU’s Bill Cook and Newberry’s Jerry Grossman, who worked extensively with Ruth.
“It was a privilege to help Ruth Dake achieve her forest ownership objectives for the last 31 years,” Grossman said. “Her stewardship of the family land was exemplary. She always had a forest management plan in place and implemented it.”
Though Ruth beheld her trees as a secure source of retirement income, she knew they were only hers for a little while.
Quoted in Michigan Forest Association publications, Ruth’s vision can be heard in her own words:
“Careful husbanding of our woodland resources will benefit us today and our community and country in the foreseeable future,” she said. “We recognize that, as owners of the land, we are really only temporary trustees of that land. As time passes, others will own this land and hopefully they will find it in better condition than we found it and they will be motivated to maintain and improve upon what we began.”
Management of the land will fall to her children now, with Dr. Paul Dake spearheading the effort.
“May we all be forest stewards as well as the Dakes have been,” said Bill Cook, retired forestry conservationist for Michigan State University.