TWINSBURG — It was rings around the oak tree with local high school students and the Twinsburg Historical Society, as they learned about ecology and how to determine the age of trees.

This was one in a series of activities the society is undertaking with the schools. In late April, some students assisted society members with the use of various electronic devices during a monthly open house.

"We’re planning a great partnership with the schools to promote local history and get the younger folks interested," said society president Andy Tomko.

Most recently, about 43 freshmen and sophomores in teacher Nora Suder-Riley’s honors biology class visited the society’s barn to count rings to determine the age of a giant white oak tree removed from Twinsburg resident Jack Higgins’ property.

The cross section has been on display at the barn since Higgins had the tree cut down last year, but the rings had not been counted before, according to city naturalist Stanley Stine. The students determined the tree was at least 182 years old.

"We believe it was the oldest tree in the city when it was taken down last year," said Tomko. Stine said there could be several trees in town near its age.

"Stanley reached out to me about bringing the students to count the rings," explained Suder-Riley, who has taught at Twinsburg High for 27 years. "It gave students an opportunity to learn about determining the age of trees, and fit right in with our ecology unit."

Suder-Riley said the light and dark rings in the cross section of trees represent one year of growth. The students counted 182 rings on this tree’s cross section, which measures 82 inches in diameter at the widest point, according to Higgins.

"We’re so lucky to have the opportunity to work with the city naturalist and connect with our town’s heritage at the same time," said Suder-Riley. "I am grateful to Stanley for reaching out to us."

Suder-Riley said the field trip also gave students a chance to see some displays at the historical society’s barn and museum, which most of them had not seen before.

Freshman Lizzie Heiner said it was "very interesting" to view and learn about "such a unique piece of local history." She said she is one of the few of the participating students who has visited the barn and museum.

"I really enjoy history," she said.

Freshman Mitch Drubetskiy called the field trip "quite a fun learning experience."

Stine said he and the society originally wanted to get students from Bissell Elementary School to do the ring counting, but scheduling prevented that, so he approached Suder-Riley. "I’ve worked with her on many projects," he said.

"I like to involve students in natural history," Stine said. "This was the first time the rings on this slice of tree were counted. It turned out the age was right in the range I expected — 150 to 250 years old."

Stine said the white oak is known as a "wolf tree," which is a very large forest tree that has a wide-spreading crown and inhibits or prevents the growth of smaller trees around it. He said wolf trees in the eastern U.S. are usually sugar maples, shagbark hickories and white oaks.

As woodlands were replaced by pastures over times, remaining trees could spread their branches, and many of them grew tall and wide. Higgins said the tree on his property was estimated to be 95 to 100 feet tall.

"These trees served many purposes," said Stine. "They provided great shade for farmers when they were working in the fields, and also could be used for deer stands and children’s treehouses."

Higgins, who is 78 years old, said he owns about 4 1/2 acres at Conotton Avenue and Cross Street. He moved there in 1969 and lives in a house built in the early 1900s.

Because the huge white oak was dying out in the last 10 years, he decided to have a tree-cutting firm take it down last year. He then cut the tree into 41 ricks of firewood, and had three truckloads of the knotty parts hauled away.

"I thought it would be great to donate a slice to the historical society so people could see an actual piece of Twinsburg history," he said, adding there was another huge and old tree on the property which apparently blew down prior to the 1950s.

"Jack called us to see if we’d be interested in this slice of tree trunk, and we were eager to get it," said historical society trustee Audrey Kancler. "We plan to eventually put together a list of historic events which took place during the life of the tree and display it beside the slice."

She said Higgins used pulleys to get the slice to the barn, and society members Ken Roddie and Dale Sasala helped to seal the wood for preservation and maneuver the slice into place. 

"Jack was the real brains of the operation, though," she said.

"Without question, it’s a great addition to our collection. We also have a nice photo of Jack standing beside the tree when it was still standing, which people who visit the barn can see."

Meanwhile, Tomko said the society soon will award a $1,000 scholarship to a deserving Twinsburg High School senior. The society’s next event is a scavenger hunt May 26 from 3 to 5:30 p.m.

The hunt, which the society is partnering with Handel’s Ice Cream to offer, will start at the museum and visit historic sites around the Square, ending up at Handel’s for ice cream and prizes.

"We’ll also have people dressed up in period costumes at the 15 sites the scavengers need to find," said Tomko.

Reporter Ken Lahmers can be reached at 330-541-9400 ext. 4189 or klahmers@recordpub.com