Taft's gift to Japan grew up in Avon

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''Taft's gift to Japan grew up in Avon

AVON -- The 50 dogwood trees Ohio Gov. Bob Taft recently planted in Japan grew 5 feet tall in Avon soil before being taken from the earth, rinsed clean and sent to their new home on the other side of the world.

To prepare the 5-year-old trees for their role in Taft's recent 'trade mission' to Japan, workers at Willoway Nursery washed their roots, removing every last trace of Avon dirt before packing them in damp shredded paper.

Inspectors pronounced them clean of dirt and free of disease, and workers laid the saplings in a specially-made wooden box, seven feet long and five feet high. The box was packed in a truck and sent on a flight that would last more than 14 hours.

Steve Novak, left, and Jeff Chizmadia are seen at Willoway Nursery in Avon packing the trees for shipment to Japan. (Special to The Morning Journal)

When the saplings' roots again touched the soil, it was soil in front of the Diet Building in Tokyo, which houses Japan's national legislative assembly.

Taft's great-grandmother, wife of President William Howard Taft, received 2,000 cherry trees from Japan in 1909. While that first shipment was damaged by disease, a second shipment of 3,020 in 1912 was planted around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. Many still grow there today and serve as one of the district's springtime attractions.

In gratitude for the gift, President Taft sent a gift of dogwood trees to Japan in 1915. Because those dogwoods have since died, Gov. Taft's 10-day trip included an opportunity to re-enact his grandfather's gesture, said Taft's spokesman Scott Milburn.

Taft planted some of dogwoods in front of the Diet Building on Feb. 1. On Feb. 2, he and his wife planted others in the Japanese state of Saitama, Ohio's sister state ...

Willoway Nurseries was founded by Lester Demaline on just 10 acres in Westlake, He moved the operation to Avon in 1959. Today, Tom Demaline, 43, has taken over for his father and supervises an enterprise with 750 acres in Avon and Huron.

Willoway sells to dealers all over the country, from New England to Chicago to Louisville, Ky. Before the special request from Taft, Willoway plants had never traveled overseas.

For Tom Demaline, the chance to provide the trees was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ...

At this point, the trees are dormant for the winter, Demaline said. By March or April, residents of Tokyo will be able to enjoy the dogwood's distinctive white blossoms.

As for Demaline, the trees may be gone, but they are not forgotten. The Avon resident hopes to see those dogwoods again some day.

'I'd like to visit Japan,' he said. 'Those trees are on my travel itinerary if I ever get there." ''

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NEWS ARTICLE from The Chronicle-Telegram, 4-9-06, by Bette Pearce


ECONOMY: Avon nursery depends on guest workers to fill seasonal needs

AVON -- For Tom Demaline, president of Willoway Nurseries, immigration reform strikes at the very heart of his livelihood. Each February, Demaline must hire about 425 people between March 1 and Dec. 1 to cultivate, plant, pot and tend 800 acres of plants, shrubs, trees and flowers grown at Willoway Nurseries on Center Road [SR 83] in Avon. About 325 of those workers come from Mexico through the current federal guest-worker program ...

In fact, Demaline said he has to provide documentation to the government that he can't get enough Americans to fill all of the seasonal nursery jobs. "I have to advertise the positions, try to hire people through the Department of Job and Family Services, be able to document the number of applications I get. It is true that there aren't enough Americans willing to do this kind of job. It's backbreaking, labor-intensive work.

"For every job in agriculture, we support three other jobs." in processing, trucking and the fertilizer industry. Not having these immigrant workers would have a huge domino effect on the economy. If anything, the guest-worker program needs to be expanded," Demaline said. "But we need stronger border security to stop undocumented or illegals. We need workers, but we need to get them documented."

Willoway Nurseries participates in the guest-worker program for the agriculture industry that allows an unlimited number of migrant workers into the country each year to work. In the landscaping and nursery industry, almost 49,000 immigrants were registered to work in the United States, according to the Ohio Landscape Association.

"Landscaping is very dependent on the program," said Sandy Munley, executive director of the Ohio Landscape Association.."And this is not a source of cheap labor. The program requires businesses to pay steep fees to apply for the program and specifies a wage threshold that must be met or exceeded." The migrant workers at Willoway are paid $9.21 an hour and provided with dormitory-style living quarters.

As seasonal workers, they are not provided health insurance, but are included in the company's workers compensation coverage, Demaline said. The workers also pay state and federal taxes and Social Security, even though they are not eligible to receive Social Security benefits ...

Willoway has participated in the guest-worker program for eights years. Before then, Willoway only hired workers with green cards from the Department of Immigration and Naturalization, but that proved to be tricky ...

Munley said that without the [guest worker] program, Ohio's $3.48 billion landscape and nursery business would take a very hard hit. "Without these guest workers, these companies would not be able to service their clients and many fear they would have to close their doors," she said.


NEWS ARTICLE from The Chronicle-Telegram, 4-9-06, by Bette Pearce

``SACRIFICE: Chance to provide better life for family back in Mexico drives workers here

AVON -- When Francisco Contreras leaves home for work, he bids a loving goodbye to his wife and four children, as do husbands around the world. But when Contreras leaves for work, it will be 10 months before he sees his family again.

The separation is hard. The work is hard, even backbreaking. But the $9.21 an hour Contreras makes working in the fields and greenhouses at Willoway Nurseries on Center Road [SR 83] in Avon enables him to provide a better life for his family in Mexico. A much better life. The same job in Mexico pays the equivalent of $1 an hour ...

Every year for the past eight years, Contreras has crossed the border under the federal government's current guest-worker program. He said he wishes he could bring his family with him, but temporary resident visas are almost impossible to obtain ...


NEWS ARTICLE from The Chronicle-Telegram, 4-10-06, by Bette Pearce

``County leaders weigh in on immigration debate

AVON -- The debate raged on Capitol Hill last week. Some lawmakers supported legislation that would make the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in this country felons, while others called for a graduated amnesty program that would allow them to take steps toward establishing a legal status as guest workers. But the debate ended Friday with the Senate declaring a stalemate and breaking for the upcoming holiday hiatus.

The issue cuts deep and into the nation's heartland, according to Lorain police Chief Cel Rivera, who estimates that as many as 3,000 illegal immigrants work in Lorain County during the harvesting season ...

"The federal government has a tendency to pass on responsibilities, just like they did with homeland security, without providing the additional resources. So it could be one more thing that takes away from the primary duty of providing law enforcement to our own community," he said ...''


NEWS ARTICLE from The Akron Beacon Journal, 4-22-06, By Julie Wallace, Beacon Journal staff writer

``Ohio nursery employs Mexicans through U.S. guest-worker program

AVON -- Each year, Tom Demaline of Willoway Nurseries legally brings 275 workers across the Mexican border for nine months of backbreaking work harvesting and planting -- jobs that he's never been able to fill for long using a local work force.

Demaline, president of the Avon-based grower, is enrolled in a government guest-worker program -- one that involves him recruiting workers from Mexico, housing them in government-inspected facilities and returning them after the season.

For those nine months, each worker makes a government-set wage of $9.21 an hour, with Demaline spending an extra $1.25 an hour to cover the bureaucratic costs of participating in the program. He knows his competitors don't have to pay as much, but he chalks it up as the cost of keeping a legal work force.

``It's a burdensome program. The government set this thing up, and it's so difficult to use -- that's why a lot of people don't use it,'' Demaline said. ``We're actually being penalized for trying to do things right. But we have a peace of mind that we have a legal work force.''

Demaline, who runs the business started by his father 52 years ago, signed on for the program after being raided by the government nearly a decade ago and losing nearly 50 workers found to be undocumented. The company wasn't fined or cited, but it still hurt because the loss came during the growing season.

Lately, Demaline has had a lot of opportunities to talk about the guest-worker program, as he's become the face of a campaign by the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association to show the importance of immigrant workers.

The campaign started after the group learned Ohio's congressional delegation was hearing almost exclusively from those who want to expel the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants now living and working in the United States, executive director Bill Stalter said Friday.

The group wants a simplified and less costly guest-worker program, which would allow immigrants to legally fill such jobs for specific periods of time. Noting that agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Ohio, he said the state's economy would be devastated if there weren't workers available during the critical seasons ...

Demaline, the nursery owner, acknowledged that his largely Hispanic work force raises some eyebrows -- even in Lorain County, which has a substantial Hispanic population dating to when a booming steel mill lured them to town.

``Everybody who sees a Hispanic working in construction or a nursery thinks that the guy is an illegal,'' Demaline said. ``My kids hear it at school, and I've had jobs where I've been told, `If you are going to bring Hispanics, we don't want you to work here.'''

Julie Wallace can be reached at jwallace@thebeaconjournal.com


NEWS ARTICLE from The Plain Dealer, 5-28-06

``Who are the region's new Americans?

The top 10 most common birth countries among the 3,500 new citizens from the Cleveland-Lorain-Elyria and Akron metropolitan statistical areas during the 2004 fiscal year:

India: 356

Romania: 300

Ukraine: 247

China: 179

Russia: 178

Albania: 149

Bosnia and Herzegovina: 144

Vietnam: 119

Poland: 105

Philippines: 100

SOURCE: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ''

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