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Arbor Day ceremony honors Cheney

Chuck Cheney was the guest of honor at a special Arbor Day tree planting ceremony last Friday at the school that bears his name - Cheney Middle School located on the corner of 17th Avenue and 9th Street East.

Cheney has been a West Fargo educator for 41 years, as well as a longtime community resident. He started his teaching career in West Fargo in 1965; became principal at Berger Middle School in 1972 and in 1986 was named assistant superintendent of the West Fargo School District. In 1996 he became superintendent, serving in that capacity until his retirement in 2006. He is presently working as a part-time interim superintendent for the West Central Minnesota School District.

During his time with the West Fargo Schools, he spearheaded a total of $60 million in improvements to the schools and community, observing and helping implement many changes, with his strong leadership leading to bond issues for the remodeling of all elementary schools and for the building of the Cheney Middle School, which opened in 2004.

His driving force and dedication to youth also resulted in funding for the Ninth Grade Center and the Aurora Elementary School which will be opening this fall.

Joining Cheney to celebrate the planting of the stately, 10-foot Burr Oak tree was his wife, Margaret, also a retired West Fargo School District educator; and his daughter Alicia, and husband, Kevin Fitz and their two children, Eva, 4 ½, and Isaac, 2 ½, who just recently moved back to West Fargo. Their two sons and their families, Jason and Traci, and 4-year-old Evan of Las Vegas and John and Katie from Scottsdale, Arizona, were unable to attend.

Mary Beth Odegaard, West Fargo Forestry Committee Vice Chair, introduced Cheney saying the oak tree being planted "is a symbol of his dedication to the West Fargo community."

Holding his granddaughter, Eva, Cheney told relatives and friends gathered for the occasion that he was proud to be a part of the event. "Thank you all for coming. If you think about trees in the community, we've made great strides with the environment. I think this event is about the progress the City has seen and will continue to see. You students have great things to do now, and as you move forward, as adults in the community," a reference to the fourth-grade class of Don Berge at Westside Elementary, who helped plant the tree and entertained with poems and a song.

Cheney said when he was asked which teacher he would like involved, he realized it would be Berge's class. "I'm proud to say I knew and worked with him and both my sons had him as a fourth grade teacher."

Berge, Cheney Middle School Principal Rob Kaspari and former Superintendent Marvin Leidal all commended Cheney, each speaking briefly about his commitment to education and the students in particular.

Cheney's daughter, Alicia, said "it will be fun to see all the kids coming into the school named after my dad and watching the tree planted in his honor grow."

West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern and Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker read the Arbor Day proclamation. City Forester Yvette Gehrke was involved with actual tree planting duties, assisted by the students who took turns scooping dirt around the base and then adding water.

Sharon Bartels of the North Dakota Forest Service presented the annual Tree City U.S.A. banner for the award West Fargo has earned 23 years in a row.

Forestry Committee members Bob Potter and Iris Gill were also in attendance; as were members of the West Fargo Chamber of Commerce who served refreshments to those attending.