Talk about perfect timing. A crowd of 450-plus at Roger Sherman Elementary School narrowly missed being drenched in a rainstorm Thursday afternoon as they assembled for an Arbor Day tree-planting ceremony -- wrapping up just before monsoon-like rains struck.

During the ceremony led by First Selectman Kenneth Flatto, Chris Donnelly, the state Department of Environmental Protection's urban forester, unveiled a flag declaring Fairfield a "Tree City USA." It was the 23rd year Fairfield has been presented the honor.

The elementary school students seemed proud of the town when Donnelly noted that Fairfield is also the first municipality in Connecticut to receive the honor. A Tree City USA designation is a national citation given to cities and towns that have shown they consistently maintain their forests and tree canopies cover. In addition, the Tree City USA program, sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, provides aid and recognition for urban and community forestry programs.

While Thursday's ceremony focused on planting one tree -- a 16-foot-tall Elm that will eventually tower as high as 60 to 70 feet -- two other trees are being planted on the Sherman campus in conjunction with Arbor Day. In addition, Flatto and Tree Warden Ken Placko's schedule Thursday included a stop at Riverfield Elementary School for a second tree-planting ceremony.

Flatto told the Sherman children that trees are important because "they give us oxygen, give us life, give us the air that we breathe."

Placko told the students who still have at least a year left at the elementary level to keep an eye on the newly planted trees and make sure they're growing well.

"If not, give me a call," he said.

Donnelly said the youngsters one day will be able to bring their children to the site, "when you're as old we are," and point out a large tree that they can proudly say they saw the day it was planted.

He told the Fairfield Citizen he hopes Thursday's ceremonies inspire children to actually look at trees and appreciate them.

"Trees are all around us, but how many times do we stop and appreciate [them]?" he said.

Flatto read from a proclamation declaring April 28 as Arbor Day, and Placko encouraged the children to touch the Elm before they went back inside for their classes. Many excitedly obliged.

Sherman Principal Eileen Roxbee said the tree will provide shade in a blacktop and ball field area where trees are not abundant. In addition, it will help soak up the extra water on the fields, which are located in a floodplain.

The two Arbor Day ceremonies Thursday marked Flatto's last public appearances "out in the beauty of our town," he said.

Flatto, who steps down May 3 to became director of special revenue for Gov. Dannel Malloy's administration, said the end of this chapter in his life seems a bit surreal.

However, he said it has been events like the one at Sherman School that "made the job so unique and incredibly special."

"I'll miss them an awful lot," Flatto said.