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Sustainability at HC
From Treeless Plain to Member of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum
The 98th meridian, 98° 22’ west longitude, 40° 35’ north latitude, and 1,920 feet in elevation to be precise, where the wind averages over 12 mph, is one tough place for trees. The Hastings College arboretum, rich in age range and species variety, is testimony to the tradition of tree planting and care nurtured by countless dedicated professionals and volunteers from 1883 to the present. The campus, once a treeless pasture, now nurtures nearly 1000 trees.
Hastings was a treeless plain in the 1870s when community leaders who were also members of the Presbyterian Church, promoted the need for a Presbyterian college. Following years of planning, Hastings College was founded on May 18, 1882, on the east side of Hastings on 10 acres of bluestem prairie donated by Joseph H. Hansen.
Planning proceeded for the construction of the first permanent building and for tree planting the next spring. Ground was broken for McCormick Hall on April 25, 1883, and Frank Weyer, long time dean of the College, declared, “. . . what made it unique among ground breaking celebrations, however, was the tree-planting activity. . . .” According to minutes of the Board of Trustees, “The people of the vicinity, including the ladies and the school children, assembled on the college grounds for the purpose of setting out trees” (Weyer, 1957). Elinore Barber, College archivist, wrote that there, “. . . were several wagons piled with trees.” She recounts that 150 persons planted 226 trees representing 33 varieties on that one day (Barber, 2002).
The Hastings Weekly Nebraskan (July 19, 1883) reported that several thousand trees were planted that spring. This event was so successful that it was repeated the following spring resulting in a planting total of over 5,000 trees plus shrubs (Creigh, 1972). Many of these trees were planted in areas adjoining the campus, such as the Heartwell Park tract on the north and University Avenue to the west. Many of these early trees were given by the Honorable R.W. Furnas, former governor of Nebraska and a Presbyterian elder, from his nursery in Brownville. The good people of Hastings came out to this “treeless plain” and inaugurated the tradition of tree planting that continues to this day.
1900-1970s: Volunteers and Professionals Sustain the Tradition
The tradition of tree planting continued through drought, disease, wind, ice, harsh winters and temperature extremes with the contributions of countless professionals and student, faculty, staff and community volunteers. Records are sketchy at best regarding the people who nurtured the Hastings College arboretum, but a few examples can be listed:
- Hal Lainson remembers that Circle Four of the Presbyterian Church operated a snack shop in the 1920s and ‘30s near where the Wilson Center stands today and the profits were used to purchase trees for the campus. He also relates a comment by P.L. Johnson who looked south from the “beanery” (basement of Taylor Hall) sometime in the ‘30s and remarked, “My, the campus looks so much better since we got the people on Seventh Street to tether their cows.” (Lainson, 2007).
- Gretchen Lainson organized a tree planting project in memory of Ralph Adams, Jr., a 1946 class member, who died in France. The bronze plaque, which is located on a brick pillar of the breezeway between Hurley-McDonald and Perkins Library, reads, “Many of the trees and shrubs on the campus are a memorial to Ralph Adams, Jr. of the class of 1946 who gave his life for his country in France in 1945.”
- Russell Davidson took campus landscaping to a higher level. Davidson earned a degree in landscape architecture from the University of Illinois and studied formal gardening in England and France. As a nurseryman in Hastings, he recommended plantings and design for the campus as early as the late 1940s and in 1968 he was hired to work full time as groundskeeper. Davidson developed landscaping plans and devoted his energies to implementing these plans until the time of his retirement on Oct. 31, 1980. He transplanted cedar junipers from the Naval Ammunition Depot to the perimeter of the A.H. Jones Stadium. He advocated planting more flowering trees and he is responsible for planting many of the clusters of flowering crabapples on campus (Lainson, 2007; Adrian, 2008).
HC President Clyde Matters wrote of Mr. Davidson in a July 7, 1980, memo, “The imprint of your skill and dedication has produced for us a campus grounds that is envied by many and appreciated by all.”
- The Knappenberger Garden was established in the mid 1970s in memory of Dr. Jack R. Knappenberger by his family and friends. Knappenberger was a member of the Hastings Board of Trustees from 1968 to 1973.
An outstanding example of Nebraskans working together resulted in new tree plantings in 1987 for the area of the new Gray Center for Communications Arts (Nebraska Statewide Arboretum Grant File, 1996). A Hastings Business Improvement District proposal was selected for participation in the Center for Landscape Stewardship program of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. Through this program, the Peter Kiewit Foundation provided funds to purchase trees and shrubs and matching funds were given by the Hastings College Foundation, Hastings Rotary Club, Spotts Trust, Dutton-Lainson Company, and Earl May Nurseries of Iowa. Of special note regarding these 1987 plantings are clusters of red oaks located near the south side of the footbridge over Heartwell Creek and at the east and west sides of the Gray Center parking lot.
A unique feature of the Hastings College Arboretum was created in 1996. The Japanese Friendship Garden was installed in the courtyard on the east side of Hazelrigg Student Union. The Hastings/Arapahoe/ Ozu, Japan International Exchange Program sponsored the project under the leadership of alumnus Brent Wolzen ’85, Exchange Program president Robert Anderson, M.D., and Professor Dennis Storer. A Robinson Crabapple was planted 25 yards southeast of the student union during a visit by Japanese gardeners in 2005. Hastings area Master Gardeners work with the grounds-keeping crew to maintain the garden.
The HC arboretum officially became a part of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum in 1997. Lyle Fleharty, Director of Physical Plant Services, chaired the first meeting of the arboretum committee on Nov. 28, 1995, and just weeks later (Jan. 18, 1996) Justin Evertson, Nebraska State Arboretum specialist, met with the committee. The committee received the letter from the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum in May, 1997, congratulating HC on affiliation with NSA. Bruce Tomasek and then Larry Gunn were curators during the startup years while Art Hansen chaired the arboretum committee following Lyle Fleharty. The stimulus of membership in the NSA and hard work by the arboretum committee resulted in several accomplishments:
- Development of a planning process (Master Plan for HC Arboretum and Botanical Garden),
- The production of a mission statement with goals and objectives,
- Designation of a plan for development of Heartwell Creek on the north campus as an outdoor classroom,
- The signage of several dozen trees,
- The completion of a tree survey in 2000 and the preparation of a notebook listing information on all trees on campus (Hastings College Arboretum Committee Notebook, 1996- ).
2005 to Present: Many Improvements
- Labyrinth: Built by Hastings College ministry students in 2005, this labyrinth is modeled after the Chartres circuit design divided into four quadrants. A labyrinth unlike a maze only has one path in and one path out. It is used most commonly as a form of meditation. It is located near the Circle Drive flagpole.
- New Signposts: In the fall of 2006, Curator Paul Dooley and Emeritus professor Will Locke Selected 150 trees (out of over 1000) to be marked by 4” x 6” posts and plaques. Eagle Scout candidate Thomas Freetly organized scouts of Troop 200 to install posts and affix name plates.
- Arboretum Website: Hastings College designed and developed an arboretum website which was launched in February, 2009. Special features include history with archival photos, three season photos of many trees, tree photos linked to Google Earth, and a tribute tree program.
- Updating Campus Tree Census Notebook: Surprisingly, since the 2000 campus tree census, over 100 changes in the form of losses and additions had occurred. Plantings in recent years have been very similar to the 1883 original plantings which included ash, Austrian pine, Balm of Gilead, black walnut, box elder, butternut, catalpa, cedar, cherry, coffee-tree, cottonwood, crabapple, dogwood, elm, evergreen, hackberry, hemlock, honey locust, horse chestnut, Irish juniper, hard and soft maple, poplar, plum, Russian mulberry, Scotch pine, spruce, sycamore, weeping willow, white birch, and white pine. True, we are using a wider variety of elms (types resistant to Dutch elm disease), oaks, crabapples, and maples and we have added several species to the original list such as redbud, golden rain tree, pear, hawthorn, Japanese tree lilac, and bald cypress. Sadly, we are no longer planting ash trees due to the threat of the emerald ash borer.
- New Arboretum Sign: A new arboretum sign was installed in 2009 at the entrance to Circle Drive. The logos of Hastings College and the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum are incorporated into the design.
- Tribute Trees: A tribute tree program was developed by the College Foundation in 2009. Tribute trees are a perfect way to honor or remember a loved one at Hastings College. Click on “Tribute Trees” under the Arboretum list to find contact information, an application, and a list of tribute trees on campus.
- Water Feature: The water cascades over huge boulders and under footbridges into reflecting pools reminding us of the Rocky Mountain high country. Quaking aspen, Douglas fir, columbine and other flowers frame this lovely place located between the French Chapel and the Morrison-Reeves Science Center.
- Rain Garden: The Morrison-Reeves Science Center is an environmentally friendly green building designed to meet high sustainability standards, and one of its goals is wise use of water. When it rains, water runs off impervious surfaces, like roofs and sidewalks, collecting chemicals, bacteria, and other pollutants. This rain garden, located on the west side of the building, helps protect our water quality by capturing much of the rainwater from the roof and grounds and filtering out 80-90% of potentially harmful pollutants. It incorporates native plants such as goldenrod, penstemon, and native grasses. Student and community volunteers planted 2000 individual plants of 80 species.
- New Campus Tree Nursery: The HC Tree nursery is located just northeast of the Physical Fitness Facility. Over 75 tiny trees were purchased at very low cost and planted in RootMaker mesh bags by members of the Student Education Association and Student Environmental Action Committee, alums, and community volunteers. As these trees reach 6’-8’ size they will be used on campus for replacement and new plantings.
- The Daughters of the American Revolution have been long time supporters of the arboretum. A hackberry and an elm were planted in 1934 near the Bible House to honor Jennie Hart Fuller and Harriet Kikoff Pratt, charter members of the DAR. The marker for Fuller was moved to a prominent location south of Daugherty Center and rededicated in a public ceremony on October 26, 2012.
- April 27, 2013 Arbor Day Planting. Sixteen Hastings College students, members of either Student Environmental Action Coalition or the Environmental Ethics class, participated in significant tree planting projects. Trees were planted in memory of Dee Yost and Tamara Babcock and three trees from the Hastings College nursery were planted on the west side of the Fleharty Educational Center. Students also “planted forward” 48 bare root trees in the nursery that will be available for future campus landscaping projects.
These recent improvements to the HC Arboretum will further encourage its use as an important educational resource for several HC Departments, Hastings Central Community College, area K-12 students, and the community in general. There is no time to rest, however, because many challenges face the stewards of the College arboretum:
- Work with City of Hastings as it energizes its tree planting program and develops the Highland Park Arboretum.
- Develop management programs for dealing with the threat to ash trees from emerald ash borer and the threat to walnut trees from thousand cankers disease.
- Continue to involve volunteer groups such as Student Education Association, Student Environmental Action Committee, service clubs, master gardeners, scout groups, alums, and emeriti faculty.
- Continue to encourage the use of the arboretum as a resource for students from HC, CCC, and area K-12 schools. Provide tour leaders for these groups.
- Encourage the use of the arboretum as a place for spiritual renewal and reflection.
- Continue to develop the new campus tree nursery providing increased species diversity, replacement stock, and new plantings.
We are gathering and organizing information on HC trees, so if you have photos, stories, and any information regarding the story of HC trees, please contact Will Locke at Hastings College. If you wish to help with funding of replacement trees and particularly for new plantings in the area of the new science center, contact Matt Fong or Mike Karloff of the HC Foundation.
- Adams County Historical Society Photo Collection. Hastings, Nebraska. Courtesy Catherine Renschler.
- Adrian, Gilbert, Personal Interview – February 6, 2008.
- Barber, Elinore. (2002). “Town and Gown”: A Look at an Important Ingredient in the Early Life Process of a College – Tree Planting at Hastings College. Rerum Scriptor: The Archival Journal of Hastings College. Vol.III, No. 1, Spring/Summer, 2002.
- Hastings College Arboretum Committee Notebook. (1996- ). Courtesy Jim Ruzicka.
- Hastings College Archives Photo Collection. Courtesy Elinore Barber and Robert Nedderman.
- Hastings Weekly Nebraskan. (July 19, 1883). “Hastings College.”
- Lainson, Hal and Gretchen, Personal Interviews – February 21 and November 27, 2007.
- Nebraska State Arboretum Grant – Hastings Business Improvement District. (1986-87). File courtesy of Jack Crowley.
- Weyer, Dorothy (1972). Adams County: The Story 1872-1972. Adams County-Hastings Centennial Commission. Hastings, Nebraska.
- Weyer, Frank E. (1957). Hastings College: Seventy-Five Years In Retrospect 1882-1957. Hastings College Anniversary Committee. Hastings, Nebraska.
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