April 24, 2015
In a land where cotton fields are prominent, Texas Tech University sought to create its own little oasis in 1938, which later led to the annual tradition known as Arbor Day.
Texas Tech President Bradford Knapp was saddened by the bareness of campus when it first opened, so he decided to take matters into his own hands. He proclaimed to the university that one day every spring Texas Tech faculty, students and anyone who could lend a hand would help plant trees and shrubs around campus.
The day was carried out in true West Texas fashion. Knapp, State Sen. G. H. Nelson, Business Manager W. T. Gaston, Superintendent of Buildings J. H. Grimsley and other administrators supervised the work on horseback. Home economics students in long dresses and sunbonnets rode in covered wagons to hand out coffee and doughnuts to the volunteers who were planting.
Although it was a great celebration for one day of the year, caring for the trees and shrubs became difficult for the other 364 days of the year due to the inadequate water supply. Most of the plants died, leaving the Texas Tech campus as the typical West Texas land its known for. The tradition lasted only 10 years, ending in 1948, until it was resurrected in the late 1990s by former Texas Tech Chancellor John T. Montford.
“Arbor Day is our annual tradition to celebrate the week of Earth Day on the Texas Tech campus,” Jon Mark Bernal, associate director of Student Union and Activities, said. “This is a time for student organizations and departments to come out and help beautify our campus.”
While Montford served as chancellor for the university, his wife, Debbie, founded two important initiatives for the Texas Tech University System – the Campus Beautification Program and the university’s Public Art Program. The Campus Beautification Program created a new push for the environment of campus and led to the reinvigorated Arbor Day the Texas Tech community participates in today.
“We were looking for small ways donors could get involved,” Debbie Montford said. “One of the things that was brought to my attention is the fact that we had lost trees, needed to replant trees, and there wasn’t a big emphasis for this matter. So with this new beautification program we were able to engage with donors who wanted to do something for Texas Tech and give them the opportunity with this new campaign. This brought about a recreated Arbor Day where students and faculty could get involved, and it helped create a visual difference on campus.”
With the creation of the beautification program in the late 1990s, Texas Tech was now dedicating funds to irrigation and what was being planted around campus. Debbie said it demonstrated to others that Texas Tech was making an investment to enhance the beauty of the campus.
"I think in West Texas, especially, there is an emphasis on any natural landscape beauty," she said. "In West Texas, trees are sacred here. At Texas Tech, we had these beautiful buildings, but we were not budgeting the funds to complete the landscaping around them. When we started the beautification program, it helped create a different type of oasis in the middle of Lubbock."
Debbie is thankful for the commitment made in 1938 because it showed even back then members of Texas Tech were dedicated to campus beauty.
"I'm happy to see that even in the early years of Texas Tech, there was a commitment to the landscape of the university," she said. "I appreciate the fact that the Arbor Day tradition has continued. It is important for students and faculty to be involved and have that commitment to the campus. We have to strive a little harder to keep things going in West Texas, so participation in Arbor Day gives Texas Tech a source of pride and investment towards our campus beautification efforts."
The annual Arbor Day tradition has grown exponentially since 1938. Today, more than 150 student organizations participate in the planting process and help the university’s Grounds Maintenance Department tend to the landscape all across campus.
This year, more than 1,800 students planted a variety of more than 32,000 plants, including lantana, geraniums, May Night salvia, Mexican feather grass, black and red petunias, crepe myrtles and a few trees.
Though the rain caused a small delay, the Arbor Day festivities continued in the Student Union Building ballroom.
“When Chancellor Montford came on board, his wife really revitalized the tradition of Arbor Day as it is now,” Bernal said. “We’ve had a big transformation of our campus over the past year through the main entrance of campus, and some of the students will still be planting in that area as well as around the Will Rogers statue, the Engineering Key, the Administration Building, ag row and near the residence halls on 18th Street.
“Our Grounds Maintenance Department puts in a lot of time and effort to make sure our campus look really good. I think we have one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation.”
This year students received a free T-shirt and a reusable water bottle to help reduce waste around campus. Students who bring the bottle to any Hospitality Services location can fill up their bottle with any fountain drink for 89 cents.
For more information about Arbor Day, please visit the Student Union and Activities website.
Images courtesy of the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library
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