When Redbird Gale (Marr) Myers ’77 returned home from a trip to Japan to find that her husband, David, had purchased 10 Japanese maple trees, she had no idea that number would soon increase to 4,000.
Myers first became interested in Japanese culture when her daughter, Quinne, expressed interest in learning to speak Japanese. Because she was only 15 years old at the time, Myers offered to drive Quinne to classes at the University of Illinois Springfield. Thinking it over more, Myers decided to go one step further and embark on this journey with her daughter and enrolled in the class, as well.
Soon after that, Myers took a trip to Ashikaga, Japan, the Japanese sister city of her hometown in Springfield, Illinois. Sister cities work to promote friendship, goodwill, and appreciation for and cultivation of other cultures between the two cities. It was this trip where Myers was surprised with maple trees by her husband upon her return.
“My husband and I had already planted hundreds of trees on our property, but when I returned home from Japan in 2004, he had purchased 10 Japanese maple trees,” said Myers. “I was like what are we going to do with all of these Japanese maple trees?”
Myers soon found the answer to her question, as she and David became collectors of the trees.
“We found a love for the trees themselves. They’re beautiful trees, and there’s such a variety of them,” said Myers.
Myers has always had a deep love for beauty, as well as an inkling and curiosity to try new things. This is something she attributes to her time as an art major at Illinois State University.
“Being an art major at ISU opened my eyes to the beauty of things around me in artwork, nature, and everything else,” said Myers.
Before they knew it, Myers and her husband were traveling to nurseries across the country, such as Oregon, to learn as much as they could about Japanese maple trees. Eventually, they were both experts of the species, and others were starting to take notice of their collection.
“People wanted to know where we got them, and so, we started selling them from our home via the Internet,” said Myers. “It was just David and me, and we boxed up trees and sent them all over the country to different collectors.”
The Myers’ collection only continued to grow, as they acquired more and more trees. Soon, they had six greenhouses on their property filled with Japanese maple trees. The business was outgrowing their home property, but luckily, there were 22 acres down the road calling their name. It was there that Davidsan’s Japanese Maples LLC was born.
“Our Japanese friends called David ‘David-san’ so that was perfect for the name of the business,” said Myers. “We were the largest retailer of Japanese maple trees in the country. We had 26 greenhouses full of about 5,000 trees.”
Davidsan’s success and popularity blossomed, as they continued to bring in new Japanese maple trees. They became a staple both in Springfield and across the country.
Then, in 2011, David was diagnosed with cancer. He fought the disease for six and a half years, but unfortunately, passed in 2017. After David’s passing, Myers struggled with what to do with Davidsan’s. A few years later, the perfect idea came to be.
“My partner, Bernie, and I were walking in the rose garden in Washington Park,” said Myers. “I thought it would be so much prettier if there were Japanese maples in the parks. Then, we started brainstorming where else we could plant trees, and it just bloomed from there!”
Myers first gifted trees to the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS), where she had taken her first Japanese classes with her daughter. Today, there are several hundred Japanese maples planted on the UIS campus, including a path modeled after the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto. This path reflects the symbolic pathway that all individuals travel in life and education.
In addition to UIS, Myers has also gifted trees to park districts, Lincoln Land Community College, and to her alma mater, Illinois State.
“We’ve gifted trees to three different entities at ISU: the Ewing Cultural Center, Fell Arboretum, and the Horticulture Center,” said Myers. “I am thrilled to have my trees at Illinois State where I graduated. It’ll be almost a legacy to have for me there.”
Many of the Japanese maples at the Ewing Cultural Center are located within the Japanese garden. This garden, built-in 1982, commemorates the 20th anniversary of friendship between Bloomington-Normal and their Japanese sister city of Asahikawa.
“When Hazle Buck Ewing left this property to the ISU Foundation in her will, she said she wanted it to be used for international and cultural understanding,” said Toni Tucker, director of Ewing Cultural Center. “These trees and sculptures enhance the Japanese garden and help support her wishes for the property.”
In addition to the Japanese maple trees, Myers has also gifted granite sculptures to many of these locations, including ISU.
“Just having those granite Asian lanterns at a university in Illinois is going to raise some questions, and people will wonder, ‘What is that there for? Why are there all of these Japanese trees?’” said Myers. “It will raise awareness of the fact that we do have a sister city in Japan, and when students from Japan come here, they’re going to be thrilled to see these. Hopefully, it will make more people curious about why there is a connection between Illinois and Japan.”
Since Myers began gifting the Japanese maple trees to campuses and parks across the state, Davidsan’s has closed, and Myers is retired. Although Myers is looking to pursue her artwork in retirement, she notes that Japanese maples will always be a part of her life.
Myers and her late husband’s legacy will continue to live in the Japanese maple trees they have delivered across the country, as they continue to bring people and cultures together.
“Having these Japanese maples on three different locations on campus helps broaden our horizons. If people visit the Horticulture Center and see the trees there, then it encourages them to visit Fell Arboretum or the Ewing Cultural Center,” said Tucker. “These trees create a synergy we can share together to broaden our community.”