Clark County man remembered for life dedicated to forestry, Christmas tree farm

Published 4:00 pm Thursday, February 9, 2023

The forest was always a magnificent place to Pete Kovalic. Trees became a way of life for him, and his dedication to Kentucky’s woodlands is how many will remember him.

Kovalic sadly passed away recently at the age of 93.

He is best known in Clark County for owning and operating Kovalic’s Christmas Tree Farm on Ecton Road for over 30 years.

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But his arboreal endeavors also extended to a distinguished career in the U.S. Forest Service, where he tended to the trees from California to the Daniel Boone National Forest, whose office is located in Winchester, and as a consultant for the timber industry.

A generation of forestry students benefited from his guidance during the teaching portion of his career at the University of Kentucky.

The current chair of UK’S Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Dr. Jeff Stringer, first encountered Kovalic during a guest lecture during his undergraduate days.

“This would have been in 1978,” said Stringer. “Pete came to give a lecture to the forestry students one evening…The classroom was full, and Pete was really good at taking his time coming over from the forest service and working with students.”

Stringer would become close colleagues with Kovalic over the next few decades.

He saw firsthand the respect that Kovalic commanded in the forestry world.

“Pete was really well known throughout the forestry community here in Kentucky,” String said. “He was a very good forester and understood our forests, and his knowledge was used throughout the state by his peers and students.”

Kovalic was known for having a strong personality and a keen sense of propriety.

“He wanted to make sure that the right thing got done. He was not worried about politics. He would not let anything get in the way of the forest and forest land owners being treated properly.”

And in Stringer’s opinion, because of Kovalic’s work, the commonwealth’s citizens owe him a debt of gratitude.

“His guidance and direction throughout his career are things people have been able to emulate, and a lot of what he presented and a lot of his ideas and concepts were always about sustainability,” Stringer said. “In forestry, that is important because what you don’t want to do is something that is right in the short-term, like maximizing the dollars you can get in a timber sale because that could hurt you in the long-term.”

Kovalic practiced what he preached at his family Christmas tree farm, which opened in 1990.

“I’ve always wanted to grow Christmas trees,” he said in a 2016 interview with the Sun. “I’ve wanted to do this since I was in forestry school. Christmas trees are just an age-old tradition. It seems the holiday revolves around the tree sometimes.”

And grow Christmas trees he did all year. The farm’s yuletide crop was sold from November to December.

George Chalfant first met Kovalic in 1981 at the Boone National Forest office in Winchester and recalls a Christmas surprise Kovalic brought him one year.

“Before Christmas, someone rang the doorbell, and I opened the door, and it was Pete. He had a big Christmas tree for us. It was so large it could hardly fit through the door!” Chalfant said.

The two became well acquainted over the years. Chalfant’s daughter would ride horses at Kovalic’s farm, and he would take Kovalic on work trips all over the southern United States.

Chalfant said they bonded over their childhood and work experiences during their visits.

“We covered the gamut during our conversations,” he said.

The two had a final visit last week.

“I was fortunate enough to see him Friday afternoon before he passed away. We shook hands, and it was moving departure,” Chalfant said.

Visitation for Kovalic is scheduled for Friday from 5-8 p.m. at Scobee Funeral Home in Winchester. Another visitation from noon to 1 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church. Funeral services will follow shortly after.