Planting a Lasting Legacy
U of I’s Tree Recognition and Commemorative Program honors Vandals and friends who’ve made a difference with living memorials.
In 1911, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt planted a Colorado blue spruce on the lawn in front of the University of Idaho’s Administration Building.
More than 100 years later, the Roosevelt tree still grows on the Moscow campus, and is joined by more than 100 other trees that honor historic figures, alumni and loved ones through U of I’s Tree Recognition and Commemorative Program.
Together, these memorial trees tell a story of the university that goes far beyond the tree itself and the plaque that sits quietly near it.
"The Tree Recognition and Commemorative Program forms a living bond between the university and its students, staff, faculty and visitors,” said David Rauk, U of I’s horticulturist.“Past meets present as one tours the campus landscape and views the plaques and trees connected to these varied people and events.”
The program’s goal is to give individuals and groups a way to recognize a person or entity who significantly helped grow the university in a positive way. It’s a tribute that can live on for decades.
“Initially, one of the main purposes of the program was to provide a funding source to have more trees planted on campus,” Rauk said. “The other aspect of this program that’s not so obvious is the connection that is formed between people and trees. I think that’s a really great thing when that connection happens.”
Deeply Rooted and Documented for Generations
Memorial trees are speckled across the Moscow campus. They vary in species, size, color and age, but all honor dignitaries, events and university faculty, students and staff. Rauk keeps records of the dedicated trees and their historical details.
There is even a Recognition and Commemorative Tree map that shows where many of the commemorative trees are located. However, more work is needed to complete the inventory.
“The tree map provides a quick glance into some of the more interesting dedicated trees and, hopefully, that would pique one’s interest in a person or event, which in turn would lead to further inquiry,” Rauk said.
The Admin Lawn is home to about 25 memorial trees, including trees dedicated to the past nine U of I presidents, the U of I Centennial of 1989 and U of I Alumni Association Silver and Gold Award honorees.
“Most memorial trees gravitate toward the dignitary category,” Rauk said. “For the most part, they are the largest category of memorial trees we have on campus.”
The Presidential Grove is located directly in front of the Administration Building’s east entrance. Those honored by those trees include Presidents Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, Vice Presidents Thomas Marshall and Charles Curtis, Idaho U.S. Sen. Frank Church, U.S. statesman, diplomat and U of I alumnus Philip Habib; as well as past president of South Africa and Nobel Laureate Frederik Willem de Klerk.
Just south of the Student Health Center is the Historic Tree Grove. The grouping of 11 trees honors U of I academic colleges and naval seamen, recognizing U of I and citizens of Moscow for their “kind treatment of naval personnel who received radio training at U of I during (World War II),” Rauk said. The grove was donated by former Seaman First Class Stan W. Lemaster, who went through the training.
Memorial Tree Program Still Growing
Commemorative trees honoring the deceased can be found at every corner of campus. Along the main steps and side of the Hartung Theatre, four flowering crabapple trees stand tall as a memorial to four U of I students who died in the 2000s.
“The Theatre Arts Department is a close-knit group and they purchased plaques and these beautiful trees for four students they cared deeply for. They wanted these students’ memories to live on,” Rauk said.
At the far west end of campus, there’s a tree in front of the U of I Facilities building planted in honor of longtime Facilities employee Richard Nagy. Facilities employees took up a collection to purchase the memorial tree after Nagy died.
The newest memorial tree, No. 103 on Rauk’s spreadsheet, was planted in 2017 in honor of College of Science Dean Paul Joyce, who was killed in a car accident in April 2016. His red leaf Japanese maple lives in the Brink/Phinney Hall courtyard.
Caring for the Future of Trees
The university’s Tree Memorial and Recognition Program officially began in the 1990s. A group of Facilities employees manages the program, including processing requests, selecting trees, offering planting site options and assisting with a donor-sponsored planting ceremony.
“This program is another avenue for the campus community to honor those persons who have made a long-term, substantial positive impact to the university as a whole,” said Charles Zillinger, U of I director of Landscape and Exterior Services. Zillinger is a member of the group that reviews requests, and his team also cares for the nearly 5,000 trees on the main campus.
“Our landscape staff cares for all trees on campus and helps to promote a viable and aesthetically pleasing landscape for our campus users. Our tree care program helps to ensure that each tree gets the best chance for long-term survival,” Zillinger said.
That includes propagating trees for the future. In 2002, Rauk and U of I plant geneticist Marc Rust began a project to graft root stocks to cuttings taken from the trees in the Presidential Grove to create clones.
“When the grafted trees reached 3 feet in height in the spring of 2015, we planted them in several safe havens including the golf course and a few in the new arboretum,” Rauk said. “If the original tree has to be removed within this grove, its cloned partner can be made ready for replanting in the same space.”
Article by Lisa Ormond, Division of Infrastructure and U of I Library