Bearden teacher honored with arboretum naming

Tracy Haun OwensFeature, West Knox

The sea of identical green T-shirts was Bob Savery’s first clue that something was up. Called from his classroom to Bearden High School’s outer grounds, he figured he was there to deter any spring fever student hijinks. Instead, students, faculty and family surprised him with the dedication of the Bearden Arboretum.

Savery, who retires this month, has been an educator for 36 years, the last 24 at Bearden High School. He developed the popular wildlife principles class and wrote the curriculum.


Science teacher Tonya Henke, who describes Savery as her mentor, sponsors the school’s Environmental Club. She and her students have been working on having the high school’s campus certified as an arboretum. A level one arboretum, which is the status the school will have, has at least 30 distinct species of trees.

Savery had long been interested in the forestry on the campus, which has a number of older specimens of hardwood trees. There are red oak, white oak, ash trees, poplar trees and an enormous American Holly. He has enthusiastically helped Henke and her students with this project.

All 30 species are now labeled with signage that includes QR codes, so that info about the trees can be called up easily, and there will eventually be a website with mapped images of each tree. Other help with the project has come from Bearden parent David Dunn with Cortese Tree Specialists. A recognized arboretum must have some public availability, and Henke tentatively plans to host Boy and Girl Scouts each year on Arbor Day to help them earn Forestry badges.

On the day of the dedication, on May 7, Savery’s wife, two sons and his sister joined the celebration, which included the planting of a shumard oak in his honor. The native Knoxvillian says the first thing retirement will bring him is a knee replacement and rehab, and then he’ll look at some community volunteer gigs he’s always wanted to try.

He says he is leaving the business of wildlife instruction in capable hands with Henke. Henke says the entire campus will remind her of the mentor who taught her so much.

“My goal with the arboretum dedication is to honor the legacy that is and always will be ‘Mr. Savery,’” Henke says. “I can’t possibly duplicate the job he’s done with the wildlife principles class, but I promise to put as much heart, passion and love into teaching the students about the natural world as he did.”

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