Bidens plant tree honoring 50th anniversary of White House grounds superintendent's tenure

President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden and Dale Haney, the chief White House groundskeeper, right, participate in a tree planting ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on October 24.

By Kate Bennett, CNN

(CNN) -- President Joe Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden planted a ceremonial elm tree Monday afternoon at the White House South Lawn in honor of Dale Haney, superintendent of the White House grounds, who earlier this month celebrated 50 years working at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

After walking down from the south side of the White House, the Bidens each made brief remarks about Haney, who expressed his gratitude for the planting.

Jill Biden said Haney is "one of the most beloved people here ... taking such loving care of the grass and flowers."

The White House said the tree-planting was a surprise to Haney.

"Fifty years, 10 presidents," marveled the President of Haney's extensive history at the White House.

"The tree we're planting has a life expectancy between 175 to 200 years," said Biden, talking about the young elm tree he, the first lady and Haney shoveled dirt onto with ceremonial gold-plated shovels.

Haney began working as a gardener at the White House in 1972, and through the years has overseen the care of 500 trees, 5,000 shrubs, thousands of annual flowers, the White House Kitchen Garden and 18 acres of White House grounds, according to a White House official. Haney supervises the work of the National Park Service groundskeepers, a group that includes landscape and garden staff, maintenance workers, electricians and plumbers.

Haney is also the unofficial pet caretaker of the White House. For the 10 administrations Haney has served, he has walked and looked after every presidential dog, from Richard Nixon's Irish Setter, King Timahoe, to Biden's German Shepherd, Commander -- and, briefly, Biden's late German Shepherd, Champ, and his re-homed German Shepherd, Major.

"Commander wanted to be here," joked Biden, "but we voted not to let him."

Haney told the President the elm will eventually provide shade so "Commander and I can sit out there this summer."

The first lady asked Haney if she could pluck a leaf from the tree as a keepsake for her scrapbook, which she did.

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