Legacy of rhododendron tree at Winchester continues

Published 2:30 pm Friday, May 24, 2024

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As the state flower of both Washington and West Virginia, the rhododendron tree – which can be either evergreen or deciduous – is no secret to North America. 

One of the largest in Winchester has a legacy that keeps on growing. 

The rhododendron tree that stands just outside of Trinity Church of God (TCG) at 285 Winn Avenue was once young with a future to be told. 

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“I think Lowe’s had it. It [was] probably about 12 to 15 inches tall when I bought it,” said former and founding Pastor William Keller Sr., who bought the tree in 1987 when TCG was first built. “That [tree] has grown! I guess it’s about fifteen feet tall. It’s probably about twelve feet wide. I’ve never seen one grow like that.” 

From the start of its almost forty years journey, the tree has affectionately been named the Opal tree. 

The name pays tribute to Keller’s late wife, Opal, who passed away in 2000. 

“When I set it out, she said ‘Now, that’s my tree!” Keller said. “They started calling it [by her name].” 

Having built both the church and tree, the 92-year-old Keller has grown accustomed to witnessing its growth firsthand through the years. 

With each spring allowing it to come into full bloom, thus offering a visually appealing backdrop full of pink petals, it’s been quite a sight for family and others. 

“A lot of people just stop by [to] look at it, and take some pictures of it,” Keller said. “I think it’s the most beautiful tree.” 

According to Keller’s daughter, Teresa Abney, the tree’s presence continues to embody much the same spirit as Opal. 

“We just say that the bush blooms like our mom,” she said. “She loved flowers, but she was such a happy person. Everybody loved her…when I see it, I think of [her].” 

For Keller, who grew up on a farm, future hopes for the tree are high. 

“I hope it [continues],” he said.