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President Biden surprises White House groundskeeper by planting tree honoring his 50 years of service

The first lady described Haney as 'one of the most beloved people here... taking such loving care of the grass and flowers.'

President Biden surprises White House groundskeeper by planting tree honoring his 50 years of service
Cover Image Source: First lady Jill Biden and U.S. President Joe Biden talk with Dale Haney, the White House grounds superintendent, on the South Lawn of the White House on October 24, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden last week planted a ceremonial elm tree at the White House South Lawn in recognition of Dale Haney's 50th year working at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as superintendent of the White House grounds. According to CNN, walking down from the south side of the White House on October 24, the Bidens each made brief remarks about the longtime White House employee who has been a constant through 10 presidencies. The first lady described Haney as "one of the most beloved people here... taking such loving care of the grass and flowers."



Dr. Jill also announced Haney's public service milestone earlier this month by tweeting a photo of him with her, the president and their German Shepherd, Commander, in the Oval Office. "Today marks 50 years of Dale Haney’s service to the gardens and grounds of the White House. He has served ten Administrations, caring for thousands of flowers and acres of lawns. Joe and I are forever grateful for his continued service," she wrote. The tree planting was a surprise to Haney, the White House revealed. "Fifty years, 10 presidents," the president marveled. "The tree we're planting has a life expectancy between 175 to 200 years."


According to WTVJ, Biden also stated that visitors in future years are "going to be looking at this tree and asking, 'Who's Dale?" Responding to the President's words, Haney joked that he "might still be here" when that happens. The 70-year-old began working at the White House in 1972 and reportedly only planned to stay for two years. "When I accepted the job I agreed to stay for two years," Haney said in an interview with White House History Quarterly, a publication of the White House Historical Association. "But the time has gone by so fast that it really doesn't feel like 50 years." He added that he and his team are so busy that "it has been easy to forget that time is passing. No day is ever the same and every day brings challenges."


Haney was reportedly interning in the gardens at the Dumbarton Oaks museum in Washington when the White House enquired about someone who could help with its grounds care. He interviewed for the position and started work six months later as a gardener with the National Park Service, which cares for the White House grounds. He eventually rose up through the ranks as a foreman and then chief horticulturist, before being promoted to grounds superintendent in 2008. The position made him part of the White House residence staff and he now supervises a full-time staff of 12 gardeners, maintenance workers, electricians and plumbers.


Although his chief responsibilities are to care for the vast lawns, vibrant flower gardens, scores of trees, shrubs and flourishing vegetable garden on the 18 acres of property surrounding the White House and to pick out the official White House Christmas tree every year, Haney is better known to many as the keeper of the president's pets. "The first thing that I think about when I think about Dale is his relationship with the first family's animals," said Gary Walters, who had a long employment record of his own, having served four presidents over 20 years as White House chief usher.


Walters recalled the chaos in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the evacuation of the White House. He and some of his staff had stayed behind despite the evacuation and were on the South Lawn when Walters turned around and spotted Haney. "There was Dale standing with Barney under one arm and Kitty Cat under the other. He had to find them and was looking for direction on what to do with them," Walters said of Bush's Scottish terrier and cat. The Obamas also addressed Haney's special bond with first family pets in a letter thanking him for bringing his "passion" and "expertise to the immensely difficult task of caring for the White House grounds. We will also never forget how wonderfully you cared for Sunny and Bo."

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