In the early 1930s, a group of garden clubs got together and decided to dedicate a portion of Riverside Drive as a memorial to those who fought in WWI, WWII and the Korean War. One iris was planted at a time and eventually, the median of the road was covered with them. Over time, however, the median became in disrepair and almost everything that was left was ruined by the tornado of 1998. Tony Viglietti, senior energy services specialist, is undoing that damage and restoring Riverside Drive to its original intent. This time, he set his sights on new trees, and he knew exactly which tree would best represent our brave soldiers.

“There are power lines almost the entire way down Riverside Drive,” he said. “I didn’t want any of the trees to have to be cut down or trimmed; that would defeat the purpose. I knew the cherry blossom tree would be perfect. They’re power line approved, are beautiful and represent something very powerful.”

The significance of the cherry blossom tree goes back hundreds of years. In the Japanese culture, the cherry blossom represents the exuberance, thrill and beauty of life – but also that, all too often, it’s quickly lost.

“Life is beautiful, but at any moment it can be taken away,” he said. “During cherry blossom time in Japan, you see people going from place to place to view the flowers and attend different festivals. It’s ingrained in the culture.”

The Japan-America Society of Tennessee learned about Tony’s efforts and started donating trees to be planted. After the partnership started, Tony decided to get involved with the Cherry Blossom Festival in Inglewood.

In the fall, 50-60 volunteers gather to help plant trees. The Church Of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints Cumberland Branch has taken this on as their main community project. Members bring hot chocolate in the morning and gather at the church for lunch. The goal is to plant around 30 trees during the day, but the number of volunteers has grown so much that they typically cover the last root in about an hour and a half.

There are now roughly 150 trees in the median on Riverside Drive. The trees start at the end of Greenfield and run all the way down to the river at the entrance of Shelby Park.

“The significance of life is so important,” Tony said. “Riverside Drive is a great memorial to those American servicemen who fought and died for our freedom.”