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A Story for the Ages Lives On: The Jesse Owens Olympic Oak Plaza Dedication 

September 26, 2023


On Monday, September 25th, the team at University Circle Inc. dedicated the Jesse Owens Olympic Oak Plaza in Rockefeller Park just north of the Wade Lagoon. Elected officials, community leaders, school children and members of Jesse Owens’ family were in attendance to officially open the stunning new community gathering place.

Dedication speakers from L to R: Artist Angelica Pozo, Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne, Cleveland Councilwoman Stephanie Howse, Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin and Jesse Owens’ granddaughters, Dawn Prather Williams and Donna Prather Hawk.

Cleveland’s own Jesse Owens achieved international fame at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, by winning four gold medals. He was the most successful athlete at the Games and as a Black man, was credited with soundly disproving Adolf Hitler’s idea of Aryan supremacy. Gold Medal Olympians received English Oak trees from Hitler as gifts, and Owens planted his in and around Cleveland.

The last remaining Olympic Oak stood tall at Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s James Ford Rhodes High School, where Owens trained.  Before it succumbed to old age, it was propagated through a partnership between Holden Forests & Gardens, Bartlett Tree Experts and Klyn Nurseries. In a community effort that also included University Circle Inc. and Jeff Verespej, chief operating officer of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, the genetically identical sapling was planted at Rockefeller Park in the fall of 2020 and is now more than eight feet tall.

Ed Moydell, president & CEO of Holden Forests & Gardens; Dawn Prather Williams, Donna Prather Hawk and Jeff Verespej.

Artist Angelica Pozo designed the plaza surrounding the tree with help from the Owens Family. The plaza is a 200-meter loop representing the length of Owens’ sprint and includes four markers, one for each of his gold medals.  Decorative tiles display quotes from Owens, former President Jimmy Carter, and members of the Cleveland community about themes of resilience, perseverance, and the struggle against poverty and racism.

To learn more about the Jesse Owens Olympic Oak trees, click here.

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