Jesse Owens' Photo

During the 1936 Olympics, a sapling oak tree was presented along with each gold medal awarded to recipients. Jesse Owens' record breaking performance earned him four gold medals and four sapling oak trees. Today, the whereabouts of the 4 sapling oak trees is uncertain.

Jesse Owens once stated that the surviving oak trees were planted and located, 1) at James Ford Rhodes High School, where he practiced, 2) at his mother's house, and 3) at The Ohio State University, 4) and the fourth had died. Since then, only the tree planted at James Ford Rhodes High School is alive. The whereabouts of the tree planted at The Ohio State University has become a mystery and the tree at his mother's house was removed due to developing hazardous conditions. 

While Jesse Owens claims that one of his oak trees was planted at The Ohio State University, no records document the planting of the tree. The mystery is that three separate sources (The New York Times; the Columbus Citizen Journal; and the Ohio State Journal) all indicate that Jesse Owens planned to plant an Olympic oak tree at Ohio State. Since then, 70 years of rumors circulated by boosters, students, and alumni provide additional data that the tree was planted at Ohio State. Interestingly enough, there is an oak tree of the correct age and species located near the main library on the Ohio State university campus. Below are that facts known about the tree planted at Ohio State:

1936: On August 4, 1936 the New York Times reported that Jesse Owens planned to plant a tree at The Ohio State University.

Several days later, August 6th, 1936, Columbus Citizen Journal article Alan Gould stated, "Jesse Owens stepped up (at 1936 Olympics) for the third time to be crowned with a laurel wreath and given his third gold medal and oak tree that will be planted on Ohio State's campus." Also, the same day an editorial appeared in the Ohio State Journal of his plans to plant his oak at Ohio State.

1947: Karl Kosling, an 1947 OSU graduate, a classmate of Jesse Owens (they studied sociology together), suggested the tree was "near the Museum and Library off the Long Walk" (the oval's main walk running east and west). Today, Mr Kosling is not able to point out the tree and added that when he attended OSU "the tree was only a few years old, it's small size did not capture the attention of many college students." Mr Kosling said it was the physical education majors and the track team that knew where the tree was located and that Jesse Owens never mentioned where he planted the tree. While Mr. Kosling was attending his 50 year OSU class reunion (1997) he was surprised that his alumni orientation tour guide was not aware of Jesse Owens' tree.

1964: In a documentary by legendary film maker Bud Greenspan titled Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin (Cappy Productions, 1964), Jesse Owens himself stated that his oak tree "stands among the cherished mementos on All American Row at Ohio State University." Today (May 2004), Bud Greenspan still beleives that Jesse Owens planted one of his 4 oaks at Ohio State.

Bob Gill, an OSU graduate, recalls the tree being pointed out on his 1964 freshman orientation on the south side of the Main Library. The orientation guide added the tree had been relocated from the Buckeye Grove (once a part of "All American Grove").

1977: Don Krock, a 1980 OSU graduate who took Dr. Phil Kozel's (OSU horticulture professor since past away) plant ID courses between 1977-1978, remembered his teaching assistant pointing out the Jesse Owens tree during a plant walk on the south side of the Main Library.

1978: On August 8, 1978 The Ohio State University Lantern reports that Jesse Owens' oak is growing on the south side of the Main Library as being damaged from the construction of the ~1975 library addition.

Later, as a result of the Lantern article, university officials researched and concluded, in a report titled The OSU Oval, the White Oak on the south side of the Main Library is not the Jesse Owens' oak. Unfortunately, they were unaware that Jesse Owens did not plant White Oaks, he was awarded and planted English Oaks. June Wuest Becht writes in the 1987: November Olympian Magazine, America’s Gold Medal Trees: Still Growing!, the "One-year-old seedling oaks (Quercus pedunculata) from the Holstein marsh district were cultivated from the spring of 1935 until the date of presentation." Quercus pedunculata is also known as Common or English Oak.

Is it a coincidence that just several feet away from the above mentioned White Oak is an English Oak? Perhaps it is the very tree rumorred for over 60 years to be the tree Jesse Owens planted. Urban Forester, Steve Cothrel is summoned to inspect the English Oak and he makes this conclusion that it is the same age as the trees awarded to Jesse Owens during the 1936 Olympics.

2000:In the March 2000 Ohio State Alumni Magazine Jeff Nielson reports the following quote from Mr. Owens' daughter Marlene Owens-Rankin, "My father intended to plant them in places that were extremely meaningful to him; that's why he chose to plant one at Ohio State. There is one there. If there's not, it's not because it was not planted there."

2004: Today, the search for concrete evidence that Jesse Owens planted a tree at Ohio State carries on and the university continues to grow and expand. The new Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, dedicated in May of 2003, remains to be the site of some of the best collegiate track competition in the country. During the construction of this magnificent facility, landscaping was not included in the final project due to budgets constraints. This would be a perfect place to propose a grove of Jesse's oak trees, propagated from an original tree, as a way to preserve history and carry out a legacy. Imagine oak tree seedlings awarded to today's students who have achieved their goals, like Jesse Owens, through determination, dedication, self-discipline and sacrifice.

Jesse Owen's lost Oak Trees

Newspaper Archives: During the research to create this web page these interesting newspaper articles were found relating to Jesse Owens.

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last updated 11/2014