When he wasn’t preparing tree deliveries with city workers throughout Schenectady, tracking how many trees ReTree Schenectady planted into his DIY database, or flat-out planting trees himself with a shovel in hand — all of which he did pretty much all of the time — Stan Hickok would enjoy his retirement in the best way he knew how.
“In the summertime, he used to go up to Central Park,” said friend and fellow ReTree volunteer Mike Tamasi. “He’d throw his lawn chair over by the duck pond and read a book, among the trees that he had planted.”
As any of his peers could tell you, Hickok, a volunteer for ReTree Schenectady for over 22 years who died on Feb. 1 due to COVID-related complications at age 90, planted a lot of trees in Schenectady. ReTree president Betsy Henry, who worked closely alongside Hickok, estimates of the 3,000 trees the nonprofit has planted since its inception in the ‘90s, Hickok was a part of well-over 2,000 of them. And while his life’s work extended far beyond his service in the Air Force, as a father, grandfather, great-grandfather and Executive Treasurer at the SUNY Research Foundation, the seeds he planted helped grow a legacy that shaped the city; a legacy of community service that often went unrecognized.
Retiring from the SUNY system in 1995, Hickok joined ReTree Schenectady three years later. Henry remembers Hickok as “organized” and “efficient” in their early years working together, a first impression that would prove to be true throughout his 22 years with the organization.
“I was just forever grateful that he was willing to give so much of his time and effort to taking care of the trees,” Henry said. “And it ranged from not just planting days, but he was the eyes and ears on the street and checked up on all the trees we planted over the years; how they were doing, if they needed pruning, if they’ve been damaged in any way. And even as late as this summer when I walked through Central Park, I would see him almost every day. Even at that point, close to 90 years old, [he was] continuing with his pruning of trees.”
Henry said Hickok’s handiwork appears in Central Park, boulevards in the Union Street neighborhoods, Grand Boulevard and various other plantings throughout neighborhoods in the city. One of his most prominent works, on McClellan Street between Eastern Avenue and State Street, includes several trees that Henry said “changed the streetscape.”
“And I’m not sure people realize that, but it’s made a big difference for that neighborhood, which is primarily rental property,” Henry said. “And now there’s, at least on one side of the street, a tree-lined street.”
Tamasi, who was at one point a neighbor of Hickok’s, really got to know his friend through their work at ReTree.
“We would do so many different tree projects and he was the driving force,” Tamasi said. “He would be the one to come up with the idea, and if he didn’t, he would do all the planning.”
Tamasi vividly remembers one day when Hickok showed up to Central Park with a massive willow tree the size of his Chevy truck. The task of planting it seemed impossible, even for someone like Hickok. But, as he soon found out, his friend always had a way to solve problems if it meant helping get some trees into the ground.
“It was down by the duck pond, we both had small pickup trucks,” Tamasi said. “I went down to the park and the willow was as long as his pickup truck. I go, ‘We’re going to put this in the ground?’ But he always had a plan for everything. He had a ramp that he made, we would roll it off the truck. Everything was meticulously planned out so you could get the job done, even when you’d think it was impossible.”
Now, ReTree has a plan of its own. Henry and others are organizing to plant a tree — or many trees — to honor their friend after his decades of volunteer work kept them grounded.
“At least one, probably more than one tree,” Henry said. “I’ve got many volunteers raising their hands to help. I actually emailed the nursery where we buy our bare root trees. And Stan had been coordinating with them for years, literally 20 years. And they said they would like to donate a tree in his name.”
Hickok’s family, in an obituary last week, requested that donations be made in Stan’s name to ReTree Schenectady at cityofschenectady.com/252/ReTree-Schenectady.