The morning chill had lifted and the sky was a magnificent blue when more than 75 volunteers gathered at Hermann Park Nov. 16 to plant the Rice Centennial Grove in recognition of the centennials of Rice University (2012) and Hermann Park (2014). Just a couple of hours later, the volunteers – consisting of Rice faculty, staff and students and Houston community members – had planted 100 oak, bald cypress and other native trees in a reforestation area close to the park’s boathouse and picnic areas on the east side of McGovern Lake.
The grove was the brainchild of Rice University Representative Y. Ping Sun, the wife of Rice President David Leebron. They were joined at a preplanting dedication ceremony by Harris County Judge and Rice alumnus Ed Emmett ’71, Houston City Council member Ellen Cohen, Houston Parks and Recreation Director Joe Turner, Hermann Park Conservancy Board Chair Ann Kennedy and Hermann Park Conservancy Executive Director Doreen Stoller ’91.
“Houston has really been wonderful to Rice University,” Sun said. “Planting trees in connection with celebrating academic institutions is really part of the (Chinese) culture. I thought this would be a good way for Rice to give back to the community.”
Leebron stressed Rice’s proximity to Hermann Park as a key component to what makes the university’s location special. “One of my favorite things to say about Rice is: If you took us off the map of the city of Houston and said that you could put us back in this city anywhere you wanted to put us or we wanted to put ourselves, we would put ourselves exactly where we are,” he said. “And there are lots of reasons for that, but one of them is being across the street from Hermann Park.”
The gift was well received by Hermann Park. “When I heard that the faculty, students and administration were going to come out to actually plant, that’s really a gift,” Stoller said. Turner echoed this sentiment. “Anytime we get trees donated, we’re extremely excited. Even better is when they’re planted,” he said. “We’re very appreciative of what Rice University has put together for us at the park to honor not only the university, but to honor the park itself. The tie is just wonderful.”
Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Thrane aptly summed up the grove’s immediate and lasting value. “What better way to celebrate two centennials than to plant 100 trees as a living, lasting tribute to both Rice and Hermann Park and our wonderful relationship that has grown so well?” she said. “It’s also a great way to replace trees lost during last year’s terrible drought. And it’s something that people 100 years from now will come to the park and enjoy and, I hope, remember this day when we planted them.”
Rice’s Community Involvement Center and Office of Public affairs assisted with the coordination of the Rice Centennial Grove project.