A tree grows in Marengo with a story all its own

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

This home on 7th circle in Marengo was devastated by the June 11 gas leak and explosion. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Underwood)

Whenever a new year rolls around, the sense of rebirth and a clean slate is always palpable in leaving behind the past to move forward.

The 2017 calendar had enough memories for all, although the chain of events during the month of June in the city of Marengo was the stuff of mass impact for the community. And the coming July floods weren’t even in the mix.

The Marengo Fire Protection District was dispatched to fight two major blazes at commercial and residential sites, the county state’s attorney’s office announced charges against a 16-year-old who threatened a city officer with a firearm, an armed robbery occurred at the Marengo Community Pharmacy, and the high school girls softball team took first place in the June 10 IHSA Class 3A state championships.

On June 11, at approximately 4:50 a.m., the 500 block of 7th Circle was convulsed by an explosion, traced to a gas leak, which destroyed two homes, set four others afire, rendered 19 residences uninhabitable, and damaged more than 50 homes in the area. Neighbors braved the resulting chaos and helped save two people that were later treated for burns and minor injuries. The scene created the effect of a large-scale disaster area in appearance and homelessness.

The devastation had reached a Level 3 on the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, a consortium of fire, emergency response and medical personnel, as well as specialized equipment teams that are coordinated through southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Mayor John Koziol spent that night and the following evening, with staff, at the City Hall. Two days later, the fire protection district’s Chief Robert Bradbury was leading insurance adjusters through homes for inspection, and wondering when power would be restored by Commonwealth Edison.

Residents of the 7th Circle neighborhood talk with work crews, following the June 11 gas explosion. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Underwood)

With the December weather settling in, the entrance to the circle at the 7th Avenue and N. East Street intersection now has the quiet look brought with a bit of normalcy returned to daily life, cars and kids. There seems an uneasy balance countered by the sound of construction, as houses are still being repaired, and dumpsters are visible in driveways. It’s the Christmas season, and one prompt is in front of the Sanchez family home: a newly planted fir tree. Covered in ornaments, lights, a translucent star on the top, wrapped gifts and stuffed animals surrounding the base, the tree brings joy to his wife, three children, and anyone else. This is a live Christmas tree that has its own story.  “I was thinking about digging it up and putting it out in the back yard, but no … it’s going to stay right where it is,” said Jim Sanchez. “I like it. My wife, Laura, goes all out for Christmas with decorations and she complained to some of the neighbors that we wouldn’t be able to have a Christmas tree this year.

The same view of the 7th Circle neighborhood, as it appears Dec. 26, with home repairs still ongoing. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

“So, I started checking on live trees, rather than the cut ones.”

He called Marengo-based Walnut Creek Nursery, Inc., and spoke to owner Paul Hackett.

“I went there, and he started showing me these massive trees,” said Sanchez. “Right away, I thought about the pocketbook and going broke. I explained what was going on, and he told me ‘don’t worry about it.’”

Hackett charged Sanchez $100, then picked out a tall, sturdy fir, and brought it to Sanchez’s house. They also planted it. The decorating was done by Sanchez’s daughter, and his wife was beyond surprised, as were the neighbors that watched the proceedings.

“It’ll be there next year, and the year after,” he said.

The live tree planted on the front lawn of the Sanchez family home is decorated for the Christmas season. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

As repair work continues inside their home, and throughout the neighborhood, there’s always a reason for hope. Especially, when starting off a new year.


–A tree grows in Marengo —