Who is Dr. Appleseed?

Hometown Heroes, People
on October 20, 2007

Several thousand trees in and around Davenport, Iowa, wouldn’t be shading and beautifying the city if not for the efforts of Michael Giudici, 54, an arborist with a mission. During the last 27 years, Giudici has planted some 9,000 saplings along roadsides and in new subdivisions of the city.

It all started in 1980 when Giudici noticed an empty, unattractive lot behind a local post office. As a runner, he knew the benefits of trees. “I knew trees provided height, shade, natural beauty, moderating temperature and a windbreak,” he says.

Giudici asked for permission to plant a few trees on the lot. The postmaster welcomed his efforts, even paying half the cost.

After that initial project, Giudici, a cardiologist at Davenport’s Genesis Hospital, began seeing other areas in his hometown that could use some greenery. But soon he realized his mission was too big to handle without help. v By 1991, he had recruited a core of 12 fellow planters and dubbed the group “Greenway Habitat.” Besides planting along major thoroughfares, the group also started the Davenport Reforestation Project, which provides trees for new subdivisions.

Giudici’s efforts have been recognized by organizations such as the National Association of Conservation Districts, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Davenport Chamber of Commerce. Greenway Habitat was honored as the 2005-2006 Group of the Year by the Iowa Urban and Community Forestry Foundation.

“Those first plantings are now 35 to 40 feet tall,” Giudici says with pride. “Over the years I’ve learned which are the most street-friendly trees.” He credits tree-stewardship courses he completed through Iowa State University and the strong support of the Davenport city arborist, Keith Majors, in helping guide his decisions about what tree species to plant.

“We usually plant lindens, oaks, ash, maples and several varieties of locusts,” he says. “Then we sneak in some sweet gum, tulip poplars, London plane trees and ginkos. If there are height restrictions, we plant crabs, Japanese tree lilacs and hedge maples.” v Cheryl Traum, an attorney and a member of Greenway Habitat, doesn’t know how the busy cardiologist finds time for planting trees. “I’m always impressed by how much Mike fits into a day,” Traum says. “He has two children, a busy medical practice, and is still able to maintain his commitment to tree-planting. Maybe I sleep, but he doesn’t!”

Giudici was recognized with the National Arbor Day Foundation’s Lawrence Enersen Award in 2001, presented annually to an individual who exemplifies a lifelong commitment to trees, for “his tree-planting efforts and for engaging an entire community in sound forestry practice and tree care,” says Woodrow L. Nelson, a foundation spokesman. “He is the leader, organizer, fund-raiser and hardest worker of his group of tree planters.”

Nelson also praises Giudici’s coordination of grants and fund-raising to cover tree-planting costs. “Not one dollar has been spent on administrative expense,” Nelson says. “Michael’s motto has always been ‘A dollar raised is a dollar spent on trees.’”

Giudici’s efforts also have impressed many of his fellow citizens. “Seven years ago, Greenway volunteers planted a tree near my home,” says Georgia Clayton, a Davenport resident since 1974. “But three years ago, it was uprooted in a severe storm. A few days later, a single Greenway volunteer showed up to plant a new tree, and I went out to thank him. It was Dr. Guidici himself. I was flabbergasted at his level of dedication.”

When asked about his tree-planting devotion, Giudici says he simply cares about his hometown. “I grew up here,” he says. “I want to do what I can to improve my community.”

Andy Leheny is a writer in Charlotte, Iowa.