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Dead Tree’s Removal Leaves Lasting Impact on Mississippi College Landscape

A stick in newly leveled sod marks the place where the live oak once stood in the Quad.
A stick in newly leveled sod marks the place where the live oak once stood in the Quad.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:”

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV)

For more than a century, the tall, elegant live oak tree near the Southeastern corner of the Quad provided shade and improved air quality for generations of Mississippi College students, offered aesthetic appeal to the campus landscape, and bore silent witness to the outdoor escapades of countless birds and squirrels.

But the large tree became sick, and despite several attempts to improve its condition, the live oak ultimately died. It was removed from its place in the Quad during the Christmas break, and its accompanying greenery was distributed elsewhere throughout the MC campus.

Like a missing tooth, the oak’s removal leaves a hole in the Quad’s plush landscape. But wood from the tree will find a new purpose that will continue to benefit MC faculty, staff, students, and visitors for years to come.

The tree’s story is a microcosm of all living things on Earth. Yet it can be difficult to say goodbye to a natural landmark that, according to Roe Grubbs’ best estimate, has graced the University’s presence since the 1800s.

It fell to Grubbs, who joined MC as executive director of campus operations a few short months ago, to take care of the dead oak. While he hated to remove the stately old tree, he was also keenly aware of its dangers.

“The upper limbs of the tree had started losing leaves and weren’t showing any regrowth,” Grubbs said. “Some of the limbs were removed, and procedures were done to try to help save the tree. But time eventually caught up with it.

“The biggest reason to take it down was for safety issues. Limbs would start falling down. At any given time, students would walk under the tree. It just got to be too dangerous.”

Removing a tree the size of an oak that had been in place for so long was no small matter. Grubbs said because live oaks grow so slowly, they have very dense wood.

“It was extremely heavy – even dead, it was huge,” Grubbs said.

He said it took a team of eight or nine employees three days to complete the work. When the tree fell, it left a stump 4-5 feet tall that had to be ground down. The remaining turf was graded, soil was put down, and new sod was rolled in to flatten the area where the tree had once stood.

When the plants that had surrounded the tree were relocated to other places on campus, the culprit of the tree’s demise was revealed: a large bowl of moisture had placed the old oak under stress, making it susceptible to different kinds of diseases.

“It’s a living thing, and just like us, it can get a disease,” Grubbs said. “It was a beautiful tree, but there was just no saving it.”

Grubbs’ workers removed as many of the tree’s large limbs as possible to provide material for woodworkers to ply their craft. He said the wood will be used to make handsome kitchen bowls and other specialty items. Joshua Zerbe, a carpenter in MC’s physical plant, will construct souvenir pens for Dr. Blake Thompson, MC president, to hand out as special gifts for faculty, students, alumni, and guests.

While no living thing lasts forever, lessons learned from the old oak’s life and death will benefit the remaining trees in the Quad. Grubbs said although MC has a robust tree management program – the trees are frequently pruned to ensure their proper growth, and silver dials are embedded in the trunks to help keep account of them and monitor their health – he and his staff plan to make changes to the landscape surrounding the other trees to prevent a similar collection of moisture that could make them fall prey to disease.

“You do hate to lose good trees like this,” Grubbs said. “They do have a timeframe when they expire – they don’t live forever, they do pass away – but we saved as much as we could.

“I think the project turned out really well. The Quad is an asset to the campus. Students use it every day. We have plans this spring to get the turf built back up again and to get it strong. It’s a top priority for us at the Physical Plant and also with administration.”