On Tuesday, the Department of Public Works Forestry Services Division got an early start, arriving at 2152 N. 58th St. in Washington Heights before sunrise to begin harvesting the 31-foot Colorado Blue Spruce that will be the City of Milwaukee Christmas tree, to be lit in an official ceremony in the Deer District on Nov. 18.
This marks the 109th year for this annual tradition, making it the second-longest running official tree in the country, after New York’s.
While I was too far away to hear the roar of the chainsaws, I could hear the buzz of a news chopper in the pre-dawn as we readied for our day. I thought about the cutting of the tree, which is on a block I’m on typically a few times a week.
But more interesting, I thought, than the cutting down of the tree, is the story of its planting. That story was shared by the Milwaukee Department of Public Works.
The tree was donated by 93-year-old Erwin Boehme, the son of German immigrants who lived in 22nd and Meinecke.
Boehme’s father Ernst, was born in 1895 and arrived in the U.S. in 1920. A civilian demolition expert, the elder Boehme had a long career working as an arborist for the same City of Milwaukee Forestry Department that felled the tree today.
The younger Boehme learned arborist skills from his father from the age of 13.
Though he didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps as a forester, Boehme – after serving for two years as an Army staff sergeant in the 7th Division 5 regimental combat squad in the Korean War – returned to Milwaukee and joined the Milwaukee Fire Department.
Boehme met his wife Genevieve through his war buddy Lefty Kramer in 1953. When he married Genevieve, he got her son Peppy DeDeVoire as part of the bargain, and they lived on 37th and Highland.
The family moved into the 58th Street house in 1968 and in the late 1970s, Boehme and his friend George Wellauer – a master gardener and Milwaukee police officer – planted a Colorado Blue Spruce from seeds purchased through a company in Colorado.
Some of the seeds he bought also helped add more than 100 trees to land the Boehmes bought in Columbia County around the same time for use as hunting land.
The Boehmes raised Peppy and their son Jeffrey in the Washington Heights house, in the shadow of that growing tree.
It was there when Erwin retired from MFD in 1980, it was there when the Boehme boys moved out of state and it was there when, sadly, Genevieve died in 2019.
Though the giant spruce that Boehme and his friend planted all those years ago is now gone, destined for the Deer District this holiday season, let it serve as tribute to the lives lived under the green canopy of our street and yard trees ... like Erwin Boehme's.
We owe a hearty thank you to Erwin Boehme for his donation of the tree and, above all, for his service to his country and his city.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.