By Sydney Amodio
New to Winthrop is a white oak tree standing about seven feet tall in front of Byrnes Auditorium, planted in memory of a Winthrop alumna. This is the first of many trees Winthrop’s tree committee will plant in the coming year.
According to Clemson Extension, white oaks grow 50 to 100 feet tall and can live several hundred years. The tree was planted Wednesday, April 12 in a wide-open area in front of the auditorium.
“It’s different than the surrounding trees, which is good to have diversity in an urban forest,” Rock Hill City Forester Matt Clinton said.
The tree was planted in memory of Mary Gene Roberts Hardin, who passed in May 2016 at 90 years old. She was born on Winthrop’s campus and delivered by the campus doctor. Her father was Dr. Walter B. Roberts, head of the music department from 1925 to 1958. Roberts was hired by David Bancroft Johnson, Winthrop’s founding president.
Mary Gene Hardin attended Winthrop Training School and graduated Winthrop College in 1945 as a voice major. Her son, Walter Hardin, has worked at Winthrop for 30 years as Associate Vice President for Facilities Management and member of Winthrop’s tree committee.
“Mother, having grown up here, loved Winthrop more than just about anybody that you can imagine. She supported Winthrop her entire life,” Hardin said.
The Mary Gene Roberts Hardin Endowed Scholarship is given to students who demonstrate excellence in the study of voice.
“Mother was a good steward of her scholarship funds,” Hardin said. “She also gave a lot of money toward the restoration of the organ that’s still in Byrnes that my grandfather, her dad, picked out in 1955, the year I was born.”
Named after Winthrop’s founding president, the D. B. Johnson Memorial Organ is in Byrnes Auditorium. According to Winthrop’s website, this organ is one of the most valuable historic organs in this part of the country. This played a significant role in the location of the memorial tree planted outside of this building.
The white oak adds to Winthrop’s tree canopy, one of its defining characteristics.
“We’ve done some surveys and a lot of students have picked Winthrop because of its trees,” Christopher Johnson, Winthrop’s sustainability coordinator and tree committee member, said.
A year ago, Winthrop’s tree committee formed to address some of the trees that had been lost. The committee plans on planting additional trees soon.
“We really want to make sure that we’re replacing trees that are lost. We recognize that it brings great concern to faculty, staff and students when we lose a tree and don’t replace it,” Johnson said.
Forester Matt Clinton teaches about tree planting and pruning. In shaded forests, trees grow straight as they compete with neighboring trees for sunlight. However, in landscape, the greater access to sunlight supports development of multiple competing trunks on one tree. This structure is vulnerable to breakage and reduces the tree’s life expectancy. Proper pruning creates one dominant stem.
“We clipped it to provide dominance for the tree. We wanted one main stem to take over as the main central leader eventually for that tree,” Clinton said. “It has a better structural form. If you have several stems going from the same area, it can cause weaknesses 30 years down the road. If one of those major stems break off, it’s a concern with people around this area.”
The committee exists to maintain the many benefits of having a prolific tree canopy on campus. Trees reduce temperatures, remove air pollutants and collect storm water that would otherwise carry pollutants into streams.
“They add aesthetic beauty to the campus. Could you imagine a campus without trees on it? It would be hard to recruit students I believe,” Clinton said.
The tree committee is planning a campus-wide tree plant of as many as 40 trees sometime within the next year. Students are highly encouraged to join and can contact Christopher Johnson for more information.