When I was a child, one of my least favorite books was “The Giving Tree,” the bittersweet story of a loving tree that is willing to do anything to make a young boy happy. The boy takes apples, takes branches, and, eventually, cuts the tree down to nothing more than a stump. The tree is happy though. It knows that the joy in life is not from the taking, not from the receiving, but from the giving.
But I did not quite understand that. I just thought it was stupid and unfair. Where was the happy ending? Why didn’t anything good ever happen to the tree? Is that what life is like? You do countless nice things for people, but it gets you nowhere?
The years passed by. I grew up, and I did not give the book more thought. It slipped into my distant memory, the lonely tree in the back of mind, waiting for the boy to pay attention to it again. I did not have much reason to though until my friend Ben gave me one.
Ben Kollock is an Urban Forestry major here at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He has planted and cared for countless trees all over the city. He has sold trees to people, planted them for people and gave advice to people on how to care for ones they already have. Friends of his even joke that he is like a local Johnny Appleseed, leaving a legacy of trees in his wake wherever he goes.
I have known him for about six years and I swear he has spent half of that time telling me about forestry. He told me names of plants I have never even heard of. He explained why some leaves have ridges instead of smooth edges, and he told me what those fuzzy little barbs on certain branches are for. I honestly do not remember most of the things Ben told me about trees, but I am always happy to listen and hear him talk about one of his greatest passions.
While I may often forget about some of the conversations with Ben, there is one conversation with him I will remember forever; the day he told me that he had leukemia. I stood there in shock as he explained everything to me over the phone. It was the first time I knew what an out-of-body experience felt like. This was not happening. This was a movie. I could turn it off whenever I wanted, right?
This was what made me think of, “The Giving Tree” again. Ben is one of the most giving people I have ever met in my life. He helps people whenever he can, heck, he helps animals and plants whenever he can. If there is ever a living thing that needs help, I know that Ben will do it. This is a guy who has spent so much time giving whenever he can and this is what life gives back to him? I thought this must have been why I did not like “The Giving Tree” as a kid because someone who gives everything deserves something in return.
I have never been happier to be wrong in my entire life.
Once the word started to spread about Ben’s leukemia, an amazing thing happened. I discovered that Ben had not just been planting trees for all of these years, but had also been planting seeds of friendship all over this city. His family’s roots go deep throughout central Wisconsin and his network of friends branches out even farther than that. Ben’s friendship and kindness touched a lot of lives over the years and all of these relationships were about to bear fruit for him.
Benefits were held all over Stevens Point, including here at UWSP in the Laird Room, and donations flowed in from friends and family, coworkers and fellow students, people Ben had not spoken to in years, and sometimes, even people he had never spoken to. I want to say that an entire army of people came out of the woodwork to support him, but, with Ben, it would be more appropriate to say an entire forest sprung out of the ground.
It has been several months since Ben was first diagnosed, but things are already looking great for him, and he is not far off from being able to return to UWSP. The money that has been raised has been a huge help, but it is important to me to let everyone know that more help is still needed. He is not the type to ever ask for it, so that is why all of his other friends and myself have been doing it for him this whole time. Ben gave a lot to me in the years I have known him, and gave a lot to this community he loves so much. I hope more than anything that during this time when he needs it most, this community can continue giving back to him, through events and a website called istandwithben.com, which is dedicated to raising money for his cause.
Some stories like “The Giving Tree” teach lessons through melancholy, but the story of Ben Kollock shouldn’t be like that. Ben isn’t like that as a person, and he shouldn’t be like that as a story. This chapter of his life deserves a happy ending.