To celebrate both of their 80th birthdays this year, a Mercer Island couple is asking friends, family, and the community to plant 80 trees together across the country and the world to help the environment.
Pat Braman was an English teacher at Mercer Island High School (MIHS) for 26 years and served on the Mercer Island School District (MISD) Board of Directors for 12 years. Dan Braman worked for Boeing for more than 30 years and then owned and operated Handyman Dan on the Island.
The Bramans sent out a Christmas card letter to loved ones with their special request. By the end of 2020, they hope to have a whole book full of photos and confirmation of 80 trees planted to hopefully have a lasting impact over the next 80 years and beyond.
“The goal is we hope in 80 years some of the trees will be surviving,” Pat said. “Plus all the trees will have spread their seeds, so it’s making a difference.”
Among other things, Pat has served on the Mercer Island Education Association union board as executive director, the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services board and the board for the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce as both member and chair. She was also named citizen of the year in 1997.
The couple’s two sons grew up in Mercer Island schools, and so did several of their grandchildren, who all played soccer. The couple is known for being supportive of student athletics and youth programs.
Both Pat and Dan are involved with their church and have been advocates and active community volunteers. Additionally, Dan has helped hundreds of people with their home improvements and repairs. The couple is known to many Islanders.
“I really like helping people,” Dan said. “We love this community.”
“We love this place,” Pat said. “We’ve invested a great deal of our lives here.”
The couple is broadly known across the Island community.
“They’re well known and they are very much committed to the community,” said friend Virginia “Gini” Stimpson, also a former teacher, who helped come up with the idea. She and Pat are part of a group of nine former MIHS teachers who still get together every two months and have for some 40 years now.
The fellow teachers are supporting the birthday trees project, and Pat said nine former teachers equates to an unstoppable force that would get anything done. Already these friends, and some family members, are helping spread the message and the initial ask letter is being shared via email and as a flier handout.
“I’m very excited to celebrate their birthday and address climate change at the same time,” Stimpson said.
Carol Pencke, another longtime friend of the Bramans who taught at MIHS with Pat for 17 years said, “(Their) idea to plant trees to celebrate their 80th birthdays has exploded. People are planting everywhere.”
Pencke is having a red maple planted near her Seattle home so she can enjoy it regularly, as per Pat’s suggestion, she said.
“So many honor her and Dan, and I look forward to seeing all of the trees flourish and provide a part of their legacy. We are so fortunate to have them in our lives,” Pencke said.
Another member of this retired teachers group, Jan Weldin, is also planning to plant several trees at her home and her son’s property.
“We love this idea of trying to restore the tree canopy all over the city, state, country and world,” Weldin said.
Craig Degginger, MISD communications and alumni relations coordinator, said Pat is a dear friend and still serves on the Pathfinder Alumni Award committee. In an email he said, “It’s a wonderful idea to plant 80 trees in honor of Pat and Dan’s milestone birthday, and if it ever stops raining I would like to plant one in my yard.”
Pat said she and Dan were inspired by the sad news of the recent wildfires in Australia and the Amazon rainforest. They hope the project will not only help but also inspire others to do their part to help the environment.
“There’s a lot of environmentally interested people in this community and that’s great,” Pat said.
They are asking for folks to plant a tree anywhere they are — or, if they are unable to do so, donate to an organization that will — and send back a photo of the tree with the type of tree and location identified. They are also asking that those participating plant native trees, or trees more suited for the area that have a better chance of surviving, and to be sure to have the proper permission.
They plan to plant several trees themselves in places that are meaningful to them as well. That includes at their home, at their church, and other locations throughout the city and the state.
So far they have several commitments from family and friends in several places, including Vietnam, Hawaii, New York and Minnesota. And the first person to plant one as part of the project was their granddaughter, Amy, who is now a senior at Mercer Island High School.
Pat said they’ve garnered a great deal of support for this project and she’s even received some email promises from former students and colleagues.
“That’s been fun,” she said.
She shared a fun anecdote as an example of how the effort is impacting people: While at dinner for her birthday recently a waitress in South Center asked if they were doing anything special for the milestone. When Pat told her, the lady earnestly said she would like to do that and took a copy of the flier, Pat said.
The Bramans said they love having the trees in their yard at their home, and have watched them grow massively over the past 40 some years.
“It’s amazing what 40 some years can do for a tree,” Pat said. “Then you think — what could 80 years do for a tree like the ones we’re asking to be planted?”
She compared watching trees grow to being like watching her students grow over the years.
“Growth is wonderful to see in students by the end of the school year, like watching a tree,” Pat said.
The couple has mostly just received promises at this point, but Pat said they are respectful of people’s time and busy schedules, and understand the weather is rough this time of year.
“They have the whole year,” Dan said.
Pat’s birthday is Jan. 18 and Dan’s birthday is May 11.
Anyone interested in joining the birthday trees effort should look them up in the phone book and give the Bramans a call, Pat said.