SAN ANTONIO –
Through the bustling campus of students moving from classes and activities, stands a sturdy oak tree. Providing shade from the blistering Texas sun, this tree peeks into the past with its marked bark.
The tree stands on what the Burley family affectionately calls a safe and loving haven for the family spanning several generations. The Burley patriarch bought three plots of land, which included an oak sapling, back in the 1920s.
“The family purchased this property that stretched to the end of the street that now includes St. Philip’s College, which was kind of unheard of in those days,” said Nan Burley Richie, daughter of the late retired U.S. Army Col. Roy W. Burley Sr.
Burley grew up on this property, which included the large oak tree. Richie recalled a story of her father, as a boy with the neighborhood kids, playing their version of baseball under the shade of this oak tree.
“Of course, he loved climbing the tree too,” Richie said. “It’s only fitting that he asked that the tree remain here after he sold the property.”
The tree has remained in its location and is now a dedicated space on the St. Philip’s College campus.
“This beautiful 100-plus-year-old tree is a symbol of strength and longevity, representing the American family,” Richie said.
St. Philip’s College dedicated the historical tree officially in tribute to Col. Burley and his commitment to the San Antonio Community throughout his life. The ceremony invoked the spirit of the Burley family on their homestead, which is now an integral part of the college.
Burley served in the Army, with his last duty station being his hometown, serving with Fifth Army, now known as U.S. Army North at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. He served as the chief of the ROTC Division Headquarters, Fifth Army, touching the lives of many in the community as he transitioned from the military.
“As we stand here today, I can’t help but take a closer look at this magnificent oak tree,” said Lt. Gen. John Evans, U.S. Army North commanding general. “I think about the fact that we’re going to dedicate this tree because it really speaks to me about the person I believe Col. Burley was.”
While Burley retired from the military in 1973, he moved on to become the director of personnel at USAA. He later established job training programs on the east side of San Antonio. He also served as a vital player in the creation of the Texas Diabetes Institute.
“Just like this tree, the roots are deep. The bark is scarred, from both great times and also truly tragic times that he had to endure,” Evans said. “The branches spread out thriving across this area, just like his reach across all the leaders he touched, all the men and women that he led, and all the folks he inspired. The leaves will provide shade for the students that will continue to come here and realize this tree is emblematic.”
This mighty oak tree stood in the Burley’s homestead for years, providing shade, entertainment, and a safe place for people to congregate in the community. Today, it continues to grow on St. Philip’s College campus and generations to come will learn of “The Colonel” and his legacy.
“Our motto is strength of the nation. As I look at this tree, I think about your father. When I think about Col. Burley, no one better exemplifies the strength of the nation than Col. Roy W. Burley,” Evans added.