Earl Wallace still considers himself to be a newcomer to Palatka. He only moved to town with his wife and two young daughters in 1981.
“Our motivation was simple: we wanted to find a small, peaceful town to raise our kids. Jacksonville, where we came from, had become quite crowded. We considered Palatka and Deland, but Palatka won us over with its charm and friendliness.” Wallace said during an interview last week, “The people in Palatka were friendly, and I had a personal history with the town, having attended junior college here in 1963. We chose Palatka, and I’ve never regretted that decision.”
Wallace, who turns 80 in September, opened a small, rural land surveying office and began his new life in town.
“My office was on the corner of 6th and Main Streets in a little house. That house was built sometime between 1910 and 1915, and it’s the only one on the street with an oak tree left. One day, I returned from the field around 4:00 or 4:30, and I saw City workers preparing to use chainsaws on my tree.” he said, “They had an order to take it down, but I suspected they were just planning to trim it, much like they’d done with other trees around town. I told them not to touch it until I got back.”
Wallace went straight to City Hall, which was only a few blocks away on 2nd Street, to see what he could do.
“At that time, Tim Smith was our mayor, and Al Bush was our city manager. I spoke to both of them and told them they couldn’t take down my tree. They agreed to reconsider and asked me to serve on the Tree Committee,” he continued, “So that is how I joined the Tree Committee. To be a Tree City, we had to have a Tree Committee. And that was the beginning.”
That was in 1993; thirty years later, the Live Oak Tree is still on the corner of 6th and Main Streets, and Earl Wallace is still on the Tree Committee. The committee now meets annually to plan the City’s Arbor Day events, promoting the importance of trees in Palatka.
The Tree Committee is one of several volunteer boards and committees of residents appointed by the elected City Commission who help govern the City and represent the City on County boards.
Wallace now also serves on the City’s Planning Board, helping shape the future of the city he loves.
When asked why he volunteers, Wallace is very direct.
“I always taught my girls the whole world divided into two groups. You have givers, and you have takers. I didn’t want somebody to call them a taker. I wanted to show them that you have to give back. It’s a good, world we got here, and you just have to keep plugging along, and you have to give back.”
Wallace’s service is not limited to the City of Palatka government. He has spent many Thanksgiving eves nights smoking turkey for the Bread of Life food kitchen in the city and working in the City’s St. Johns River Environmental Center. He is also a charter member of the Rotary Club of Palatka Sunrise.
“One of the things I am most proud of in my life is the work our Rotary Club has done in Haiti,” he said.
The Sunrise Rotary sponsors education and food programs and builds fish ponds to feed children in the Caribbean country.
“Palatka needs to be preserved, and progress needs to be made. We’ve got plenty of room for progress in the City without destroying everything that’s history, and that is why I volunteer, said Wallace, “You can’t complain about the direction of the City without taking part in the process. I want my great-grandchildren to be able to walk down 6th Street decades from now and know I had a part in saving that tree and making Palatka a better place to live. That is why I serve. ”