Senior Kate Brazel, who will graduate in May, wants to be remembered as a tree hugger.
You know the type -- environmentally correct, Mother Earth-lovin' college student who spent the last semester of her college years pining over some of Penn State's most majestic landmarks -- the elms on the University Park Campus.
Steven Carrell, a finance major and another senior who says he never thought of himself as too environmentally aware, is now devoted to saving one of the last great American elm stands in the country. He admits the trees that line both the Allen and Pugh street malls are "all he thinks about anymore."
"I always thought this campus was beautiful, but I really took it for granted," he said. "I never took the time to look down the mall and really look at the elms. Now I stand at the end of the mall and I'm sad because it doesn't stretch to Pattee Library like it once did."
As members of the 1996 Senior Class Gift Committee, both Kate and Steve have reason to focus on the stately elms -- their class voted in record numbers to help preserve the aging giants that number about 70 in the mall area and about 400 campus-wide.
Through the $125,000 class endowment, the elm tree stock on the University Park Campus has a better chance of being preserved. The University will invest the gift, and about half of the annual income it earns will be used for maintenance, upkeep and replacement of the elms. The remainder will be reinvested with the principal funds, for continued growth.
So far, through a combination of telephone solicitations, T-shirt sales and seniors agreeing to donate a portion of the balance of their general deposit to the project, the committee has surpassed the $100,000 mark, according to Steve.
Still shy of their goal, the committee began brainstorming for a fund-raising idea that would really appeal to Penn State fans. Kate came up with the notion that the committee could share the beauty of the gracefully arching elms through a photo poster.
"I thought this would be a good way to raise money and to help raise awareness for the cause," she said. "Most fund raisers in the past have had little to do with the actual gift, but the nature of this particular gift really lends itself to something like this and allows us to show what the money will be used for."
In a 24 X 36 inch-format, the black and white poster displays a scenic summer view of a select group of elms with arched arms and willowed branches on the Pugh Street Mall, as seen when looking toward College Avenue. The picture, taken by Kate, a journalism and political science major, is accompanied by the words "The Elms" and the Penn State mark.
"The canopy effect of the trees is so majestic and beautiful," she said. "It adds so much to this campus and I think it's something we might take for granted until it's too late. I picture coming back in 20 years and having no trees. It's really a nightmare."
Both seniors admitted that the winter storm in early November which destroyed at least 10 elm trees -- each valued between $45,000 and $75,000 -- and caused million of dollars in damage to the landscape campus-wide has really worked as a catalyst for their cause.
"The storm was a wake-up call," Steve said. "It was very destructive but I think it has helped us tell our story. We designated the elms because we felt they were in jeopardy and then the storm just proved the point."
"Because of the storm, people are now regularly seeing trees being cut down and they can see how time and the storm are really causing havoc," Kate added. "They can also see what a key role on campus these trees play and how precious they are. They're looking at an empty spot where an elm once stood and they really miss its beauty and its presence."
Jack Lingenfelter, grounds maintenance superintendent, said nearly every tree on campus had damage from the storm resulting in the removal of branches or well-established limbs. The elms, however, are in particular danger because the repair and rehabilitation work must be done quickly to give the trees a chance to heal and seal their wounds before May when the bark beetles -- dreaded carriers of Dutch Elm disease -- descend.
"It's really a serendipitous situation," Paul Ruskin, spokesman for the Office of Physical Plant, said. "This endowment coming at this time is like the calvary has come over the hill to save us. We're grateful."
"Over the years that we've been here," Steve said. "we've seen a lot of trees come down and I think we're all just starting to notice and fear there won't be any left -- except what our memories hold."
The poster is on sale on the University Park Campus in 17 Old Main and at select locations in downtown State College for $10.
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