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Epilogue | Loren Westenberger

Arborist Loren Westenberger set Guinness record, fought for trees

Loren Westenberger, a certified arborist, was often seen with Bo, his German shepherd.

Special to the Times

Loren Westenberger, a certified arborist, was often seen with Bo, his German shepherd.

CLEARWATER — To think about Loren Westenberger is to think about trees.

Since the 1980s, anybody in this area who planned on buying or planting trees, inspecting them for disease — or, for that matter, anyone wanting to uproot trees to build a condo tower or widen a road — stood an excellent chance of meeting him.

Mr. Westenberger was everywhere, zipping around town on a BMW motorcycle, his German shepherd, Bo, riding co-pilot in a sidecar. His many friends found him at folk music festivals, at horticulture events where he planted thousands of trees and gave away thousands more, and at government meetings to weigh in on any land-use proposal that involved the destruction of trees.

He has been compared to a country doctor for his itinerant tree surgeries; and to a lumberjack and a bear for his swarthy appearance. He took after Native American ideas about the importance of trees and animals. He wore green shirts, beneath which a diamond-shaped tattoo represented the four winds.

A certified arborist, he worked almost as much on his own time in professional associations and on grass roots campaigns — some of which he started — as through his company, Westenberger Tree Service.

Mr. Westenberger, a man as rooted to environmental causes as the trees for which he fought, died Nov. 5, in Brooksville. He was 52, and had suffered a series of infections, multiple joint replacement surgeries and had heart trouble in recent years.

Earlier this year, he declined heart bypass surgery.

"His vision was to save the earth, and he was trying to do it one tree at a time," said Judy Yates, the former director of the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service, where the self-proclaimed "tree hugger" and fellow activists met regularly to review local environmental issues.

• • •

In his work and volunteerism, Mr. Westenberger racked up an impressive string of wins.

In 1998, his company moved a century-old oak tree from one side of a planned Scientology construction project to the other side. The job, which entailed unearthing and hydrating the tree's massive root structure, then lifting it out of the ground with a special device, took two weeks and cost the church $80,000.

Because the tree stood 65 feet tall and weighed more than 125 tons, moving it landed Mr. Westenberger in Guinness World Records for transplanting the largest live oak tree. (An oak tree weighing 415 tons was transplanted six years later in the Los Angeles area, according to Guinness World Records.)

As an activist, he helped stop several proposed projects, including a Walmart near Lake Tarpon and a seven-story condominium tower near the Bayside Bridge, that would have wiped out dozens of original oaks.

"Now it's a beautiful park, and it's all thanks to Loren Westenberger," said Jack Alvord, a former president of the Historic Bayview neighborhood that fought the condo project.

Mr. Westenberger sat on the boards of numerous environmental organizations, including the International Society of Arboriculture, which gave him a lifetime achievement award in 2009. He also volunteered hundreds of hours on the Champion Tree Project, an attempt to make genetic clones out of exemplary individual trees.

Mr. Westenberger was born in Norfolk, Va., the son of a Marine lieutenant colonel. He moved to the Tampa Bay area in the late 1970s and gained his education on trees through Pinellas Technical Education Centers.

Besides trees, the man with a beard like Spanish moss and a booming deep voice protected all living creatures, and permitted no bug spray in his office.

"I would see a roach and he would pick it up and throw it outside instead of kill it," said Mandy Feight, who is now president of Westenberger Tree Service, which continues to operate.

Mr. Westenberger was married for about a decade. In recent years, he dated AnnMarie Woulfe, a massage therapist he happened to sit next to at a bluegrass festival.

"I said, 'What tree did you fall out of?' " recalled Woulfe, 56.

"He said, 'Funny you should ask.' "

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]

. Biography

Loren Marc Westenberger

Born: Dec. 4, 1958

Died: Nov. 5, 2011

Survivors: daughter, Lauren Westenberger; brother, Paul Westenberger; sisters Darlene Linkh and Nanci Logan; two grandchildren.

Memorial service: 11 a.m. Saturday; Unity Church of Clearwater, 2465 Nursery Road.

Arborist Loren Westenberger set Guinness record, fought for trees 11/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 12, 2011 10:48pm]
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