A tree (actually, many trees) grows at Heidelberg: Celebrating Arbor Day

Arbor Day is a national holiday that encourages conservation and planting trees. This day of giving back comes on the last week of April, right after the celebration of Earth Day on the 22nd. In observation of Arbor Day, on Wednesday, Heidelberg added another tree to The Percy Lilly Campus Forest. 

The Percy Lilly Campus Forest, which encompasses the collection of all of the trees on Heidelberg’s campus, was officially named in November by the Board of Trustees in celebration of Professor Emeritus of Botany and Microbiology Dr. Percy Lilly. Dr. Lilly taught at Heidelberg for 32 years, and throughout his tenure, he motivated and aided in the planting of many species of trees across campus. His close friend and former colleague, Dr. Ken Baker, delivered the keynote address for the celebration.

Ken began his remarks by asking the audience to take a moment to “breathe in this beautiful time and place.” He pointed out that the oxygen the group enjoyed was provided by many of the trees in the Percy Lilly Campus Forest. “But aside from their pivotal biological importance,” Ken added, “there’s something about a treescape, something deep inside of us, that I’ve never been able to put into words.” He invited the crowd to remember the last time they were in an urban setting, and how noticeable the absence of trees is. “I feel a strange loneliness that I just wouldn’t feel if the streets were lined with – you know, friends,” he shared, referencing the maples and birches behind him.

Ken went on to describe how the existence of these “friends” can be attributed to Dr. Lilly, whose efforts similarly spread around Tiffin through his work with the Tiffin Shade Tree Commission. Through Dr. Lilly’s work, in the early 1980s, Tiffin was designated as a Tree City U.S.A. by the Arbor Foundation.

Dr. Lilly, who is 95 years old, was able to attend the ceremony today. Lively and passionately joyful, he shared some of his journey to Heidelberg with the audience. As a younger man, Dr. Lilly was looking at botany teaching positions in northern Ohio and had two interviews lined up. His first stop was Heidelberg, where he met Dr A. G. McQuate – who Dr. Lilly described as “one of the grandest men you’d ever meet.” When Dr. Lilly was told that the position was his if he wanted it, and before the topic of salary was even mentioned, Dr. Lilly decided to skip his second interview and accept the position.

Dr. Lilly described the long days he spent on campus, preparing for classes (and barely skirting messy experiments.) He shared his joy for the people who were here then, and the people who continue to make Heidelberg feel like home. 

Arbor day tree planging/Rob Huntington Mackenzie Haneberg
President Rob Huntington and junior
MacKenzie Haneberg toss soil onto the newly
planted Sugar Maple for Heidelberg's Arbor
Day celebration.

As a plaque was revealed honoring him and the forest he helped create, he was surrounded by students, former colleagues and family – with a proud and gentle smile. When it came time to plant the new sugar maple, Dr. Lilly added a scoop of soil that Ken had prepared for him, and then went in to grab a second shovelful on his own.

The plaque and the stone it will sit on will be placed officially during the annual Alumni Weekend tree-planting ceremony on Saturday, May 10. Both items were funded by gifts from Trustee Emerita Sondra Gebhardt Libman ’67. As a student of Dr. Lilly’s, she was quick to supply the stone and plaque that will solidify his legacy. Sondra served as a member of the Board of Trustees from 1998 to 2017, including 12 years as Board Chair. Sondra has always made an effort to generously support Heidelberg and the preservation of Berg alumni’s fondest memories, according to President Rob Huntington.

Since the official naming of the forest in November, a Heidelberg Campus Tree Advisory Committee has been organized. The committee is chaired by Dr. Doug Kane, with members Rod Morrison, John Huffman, Dr. Ken Baker and student representative Mackenzie Haneberg, representing the Alliance for Sustainability. The committee seeks to increase the number of trees and biodiversity on Heidelberg’s campus. The group is currently working toward designation for Heidelberg as a Tree Campus Higher Education university by the Arbor Day Foundation.

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