At the base of the giant sequoia near Edens Hall is an old plaque saying the tree, “a seedling in 1941,” was given by prominent psychologist Irving Miller. But it’s unlikely to be the same tree gifted by Miller, of Miller Hall fame, who taught here from 1917-1942. Western archivist Tony Kurtz, ’88, B.A., English and ’98, M.A., history, alerted by a friend suspecting a case of mistaken identity, started looking into it several years ago, examining letters and photos and files.
His conclusion? In short, it’s too tall. A 79-year-old seedling, given the typical foot-per-year growth rate, would be in the 80- to 90-foot range. More evidence: An aerial photo of campus in 1928 shows a small tree with a similar outline. Research indicates a woman named Olive Leonard Bruce, the sister of a faculty member, planted the tree in her yard around the turn of the century and it was then transplanted to its current location. In addition, a 1909 alum is on record saying students referred to it as the Olive Bruce sequoia. Finally, Kurtz found a 1926 article in the student newspaper noting a 20-year-old, nine-ton sequoia had been planted in front of Edens “and will in time tower above the hall.”
How did it get named for Miller, the noted education and psychology department chair? Kurtz’s findings show his family did donate a sequoia in 1941, planted on the Wilson Library’s south side. In 1969 the beloved tree and plaque was moved, at no small expense, to make way for the library’s final expansion. But it withered and died a year after it was replanted.
“I don’t know for the life of me why the plaque was put in front of the tree in front of Edens,” he says. Maybe guilt over a gift that died? “The tree that Dr. Miller left was a wonderful gesture,” Kurtz says. “Somehow that has been grafted onto this (Olive Bruce) tree…It just shows you how easy it can be to have something forgotten.”
Photos by WWU Archives