COEUR d'ALENE - Chet Hanna looked up into the branches of the big, old oak tree growing into the sky in front of Tom and Catherine Jacobson's Coeur d'Alene home.
Contemplating the opportunities for climbing and tree house building, the 7-year-old didn't flinch when asked if he would like to have a similar tree in his own yard.
"Oh yeah," Chet said, still gazing upward. "I didn't know acorns could actually grow a tree that big."
Chet and 24 other students in Maureen Woitas' first-grade class at Sorensen Elementary School might just grow a few tall oaks of their own. They now have the acorns to do it.
The students visited the Jacobsons' home Thursday. They ate their lunches under the 80-foot tall tree, plucked acorns from the lawn and received instructions from Tom Jacobson on how to plant the little oak nuts they gathered.
"You'll get a tree like that big one," Jacobson said, explaining that they should plant the nuts with the point facing down into the dirt.
His own tree's history began in Kentucky more than five decades ago. While on a trip to that state, Jacobson picked up an acorn and brought it home to Idaho. He said that back then, in the 1950s, he had never seen acorns in the North Idaho region.
He planted that Kentucky oak nut 55 years ago, when he and Catherine, who will celebrate 65 years of marriage in October, moved into their home on Indiana Avenue, near Seventh Street.
The oak grew as the Jacobsons' six children did.
"The leaves turn fiery red in the fall," Jacobson said.
Judy Cornutt, of Post Falls, said the acorn was planted when she was 7. She recalls her father keeping the nut in the refrigerator for a while after bringing it home.
"All the neighborhood kids used to climb that tree when it was smaller," Jacobson said.
Woitas, a friend of the Jacobson family, has been bringing young students to visit the tree each fall for several years.
Some years, the acorns were sparse, Woitas said.
"The squirrels beat us to them," she said.
One fat gray squirrel decided to give the kids some competition Thursday. The animal ran very close to the group of mainly 6-year-olds, circled round, and then made a beeline right through the happily shrieking kids before scampering up into the tree's green, leafy recesses.
"One year, I threw 30 gallons of acorns in the garbage," Jacobson said.
Trees have always been important to the Jacobson family, owners of a tree service company bearing their name. The business is now operated by Tom's son, Dan Jacobson, and several of Jacobson's grandchildren.
This year, one of Jacobson's 22 great-grandchildren, Elliana, was among the first-grade students who visited the tree. Tom and Catherine have 22 grandchildren.
Elliana's mom, Kristi Rietze, said she often played with her cousins in her grandparents' tree.
"I spent my whole life climbing right to the tippy-top," Rietze said.
The first-graders sat under the tree's bowers and asked Tom Jacobson questions about the acorns and the oak. They wondered why some of the nuts were green, why the insides were yellow, and why some of them were cracked.
One little girl raised her hand and asked: "Do monkeys like this tree?"
Jacobson chuckled and said, "Just first-grade monkeys."
The kids clutched little bags of acorns as they lined up to walk back to Sorensen Elementary.
"So you'll have oak trees all over Coeur d'Alene," Jacobson said.
JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Sophia Owens and Tom Jacobson inspect an acorn she found in the front yard of his home Thursday during a field trip with her class.
JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Students from Sorensen Magnet Elementary School's first grade class and members of the Jacobson family discuss the 80 foot tall oak tree which Tom Jacobson planted 55 years ago from an acorn he brought back from Kentucky.