Evanston achieved National Wildlife Federation Community Certification as a Wildlife Habitat last year. Mr. D’Agostino is second from left.

Paul D’Agostino, Environmental Services Coordinator for the City of Evanston, is retiring today, April 30, after 33 years of monumental contributions to the Evanston’s green world and urban forest—and working under seven different City Managers!

He was born in California, but his family moved to Evanston when he was 13, and he has lived here pretty much ever since. During high school, he “fell for the trees” while working for two summers at a camp in northern Wisconsin.

He explained, “I just felt different every day while I was there and working almost every day outside. I decided then that I wanted to try to do that for the rest of my life.” He followed his dream and received his B.S. from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in Plant & Soil Science, with a specialization in Urban Horticulture.  

Mr. D’Agostino became a certified arborist in 1992.

After nine years working in the private landscaping sector, Mr. D’Agostino was hired by Evanston in 1987 as a Landscape Gardener taking care of City parks. A sequence of retirements by long-serving, well-respected staff, plus reorganizations of City departments, paved the way for him to move up the ladder.

After three years as Landscape Gardener, he was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Parks, in the Department of Parks, Forestry and Recreation. When the Parks and Forestry Divisions were combined into one, he became the Assistant Superintendent of Parks/Forestry and soon became Superintendent of the Parks/Forestry Division.

Even with position title changes, his job responsibilities were constant, except for the two years he spent overseeing the Facilities Management Division. Those years were particularly educational, as he learned about the City’s buildings and oversaw staff with very different skills than forestry. His next title changed around 2012 when the Parks/Forestry Division was moved into the Public Works Department, where it now stands.

A description of titles does not do justice to the many projects Mr. D’Agostino has initiated or on which he has collaborated.  Paul goes about his work with such quite dedication, many of us are unaware of the reach of his projects. For example, he has staffed the meetings of the Lighthouse Landing Complex Committee, a group of neighbors and organizations in the vicinity of the Lighthouse.

In the early 2000s, he worked on the rehab of the Jens Jensen grotto feature adjacent to the Harley Clarke mansion and in 2006, he worked with the Cutter family to rebuild a totally accessible playground in Lawson Park in remembrance of their son Noah. 

In 2012, he worked with Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl to take the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge, which then committed the City to enhance Monarch habitats wherever possible.

When it comes to caring for our urban forest, Mr. D’Agostino has been an exceptional and persistent force in planting trees and keeping those we have alive. Evanstonians take their parkway, park and yard trees seriously and with passion. Regardless of his title, he has been a consistent and accessible tree mentor for Evanston’s residents and for his staff. 

Evanston has been an Arbor Day Tree City for 35 years, and Mr. D’Agostino has been essential in helping us keep that designation.  He initiated the elm-tree injection program in 2005, which almost immediately significantly reduced the loss rate of parkway elms.

After the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) hit Evanston’s ash trees in 2006, he worked with the National Forest Service lab in Michigan in 2009 to release parasitic wasps in an attempt to try to control the spread of Emerald Ash borers.

Unfortunately, the insects did not survive their first winter. In the face of inevitable loss, in 2013 he developed a fundraising program called “I Heart Evanston Trees” to raise money to replace trees that had been lost to EAB.

In 2012, he collaborated with Evanston citizens to develop a TreeKeepers program.  As a result, community volunteers work actively with his department to care for parkway trees and shrubs. From 2017-2019, he worked with both Evanston Rotary Clubs to plant 230 new trees throughout the parks in Evanston.  Over the years, he has also assisted Canal Shores Golf Course with its tree issues.

Working with City volunteers and staff, Mr. D’Agostino has been deeply involved in two recent natural areas projects. He facilitated the creation of the Clark Street Bird Sanctuary and has been fully involved in the North Shore Channel Habitat Project, a program that received funding from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation Chicago and Calumet Rivers Fund.

He has been a mentor to other staff, too, bringing them in to community collaborations like the TreeKeepers program and natural areas projects. One of the  greatest contributions a public servant can make is to assure that others will be there to carry on the work after they move on to a well-deserved retirement.

Mr. D’Agostino’s’s personal traits, his ability to get things done, his willingness to work with others and encourage and collaborate with other tree advocates is the secret to his success.

Don Terras, Director of the Lighthouse Park District, praises his “calm manner and on-the-job wisdom.” Wendy Pollock, steward of the Channel project, says of Mr. D’Agostino, “He has been exceptionally skilled at nurturing community collaborations—including when necessary navigating both the bureaucracy and volunteers’ varied capacities and needs.  His vision, humility, and perseverance make him the best partner, the best public servant, and the best friend. …Rooted, reliable. We’re lucky that all of the trees he has planted and cared for over the years—not to mention the natural areas and gardens he also helped create—will be with us for a long time. And we’re very lucky he still will be a neighbor.”

Mr. D’Agostino’s philosophy: “When you plant a tree, you are not doing it for yourself, you are doing it for your grandchildren. They will be the ones to enjoy all the benefits.”

Finally, What is his favorite tree?  “Bur Oak has always been my favorite tree, and oaks would be the species. They produce the most benefits for both humans and wildlife, and do so much longer than most other species. Plus they are really beautiful trees to look at.”

Good luck, Paul. We will miss your guidance and friendship. We have confidence that the capable staff you have worked with will continue on the path you have set.  And, we know where to find you.

The designation recognizes high standards in urban forestry—like diversifying tree species, which is why we weren’t hit as hard as many communities by EAB.

Libby Hill

Libby Hill is the author of "The Chicago River: a Natural and Unnatural History. She has been writing about birds and trees and Evanston's natural history for the Roundtable since 2004.