Atwater 'blessed' by man's efforts at beautification

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comNovember 19, 2012 

BEA AHBECK CASSON/ Robert Turner stands in his backyard, which is decorated with an abundance of palm trees, in Atwater Thursday. (11-15-12)


— When you step into Robert Turner's back yard, it feels more like Hawaii than Atwater.

More than 100 palm trees -- some short, some tall -- envelop the yard and complement a small pool full of clear, blue water and tropical decorations. Some came from the cluster of islands in the Pacific.

But after a short explanation of all the palm trees in Turner's back yard, it's obvious his inspiration comes not only from Hawaii. The palms come from all over the globe, including Japan, Guam, China, India, Laos, Mexico and Cuba.

Turner, 65, has dedicated his time to growing many trees from seeds, and he doesn't keep them to himself.

By planting his palm trees around the neighborhood, Turner has beautified the area and lent some of his tropical paradise to the rest of the community. His efforts are visible along Augusta Lane, Woodland Hills Drive and other spots farther out in the city.

He takes the time to cover up graffiti and spends hours every month pulling weeds around his neighborhood, which is off Augusta Lane near Rancho Del Rey Golf Course.

Commitment appreciated

During a meeting last week, the City Council recognized Turner for his work and Councilman Jeff Rivero presented him with a certificate of appreciation.

"The city of Atwater is blessed with a lot of people in town that contribute, and Robert Turner is one of them," Rivero said after the meeting.

Turner's commitment to beautifying his neighborhood is obvious, and "he's done an outstanding job for the community," Rivero said.

Turner, along with his wife, is deaf, but that doesn't hinder his desire to help out and stay dynamic in the community. Every day he can be seen around the neighborhood walking his two Jack Russell terriers, Banjo and Buddy.

While planting trees is one of Turner's most noticeable marks on the community, his benevolence isn't limited to it.

Turner's neighbor, Nancy Moss, knows first-hand how much he cares about his community and neighbors.

When vandals marred her home with graffiti a few months ago, Turner helped remove it from her house and fence within 30 minutes of her noticing it.

His handiwork is immeasurable, Moss noted. Turner even crafted a headstone for Moss' mother.

Turner is "part of the family" to Moss.

"He's amazing," Moss said. "He just does so much."

It's no coincidence that Moss has seven palm trees in her back yard, three in her front yard and four on the side of the house -- all of them came from Turner.

Moss said Turner knows everything about the various species, earning him the nickname "the palm doctor."

Turner said each palm tree at his house requires specific care. He often moves around the ones that aren't planted to either keep them warmer or cooler, depending on the weather. Some even end up inside his house.

Inspired by his wife

With about 3,000 kinds of palm trees, there's a lot to be learned, said Turner, who helps others in the neighborhood groom and take care of their palms.

Much of Turner's passion originates from his wife, who lived in Hawaii for nine years while her father was in the service. Turner wanted to give her a slice of Hawaii in Atwater.

"Evidently, he can do it," Moss said.

After getting to know Turner and his wife over the past five years, Moss said she feels blessed to have them as her neighbors and welcomes them into her home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"You can go on and on and on about this guy and the things that he does without asking for anything in return," Moss said. "I wish everyone could have a neighbor like him and his wife."

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or

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