By Anna Dresser | Staff Writer
Alumni, community members, students, and both retired and current faculty gathered around the new Arsenal Oak on the Benét House Front Lawn, during the dedication ceremony on Arbor Day, Friday, April 29.
“This is a great way for us to have brought our various constituent groups together to celebrate not just the replanting of the tree, but to celebrate the university’s future,” said Deb Barshafsky, the strategist for the Augusta University Heritage Project.
The original Arsenal Oak, which has held a spot on both the Summerville Campus and the students’ hearts, succumbed to disease in the early 2000s and had to be removed. However, the new Arsenal Oak, a descendant of the original, was put in its place in front of Benet Hall.
“Sometimes we have to plant seeds that will eventually grow into beautiful, large trees, of which we may never enjoy their shade,” Scott Wallace, dean of student life, said during his opening speech. “And I often wonder if that is what George Barrett thought when he planted the acorns of this tree that has grown into the Augusta University Arsenal Oak – this tree that we dedicate today.”
The story of the new Arsenal Oak began when George Barrett gathered multiple acorns of the original Arsenal Oak and began to grow them. Rob Pavey, now a 32-year resident of Augusta, ended up buying them from Barrett and caring for them. After almost 20 years, Pavey offered the gift of an Arsenal Oak descendant to the university so that the tradition might be carried on.
However, it took a while to get things into place for the new Arsenal Oak to make its permanent home on the Summerville Campus.
“I feel like maybe this project has been in the making my whole life,” Barshafsky said. “I was an undergraduate here in the 1980s, I majored in English at Augusta College, and I spent a lot of time under the original Arsenal Oak. So, I didn’t quite literally work on this my whole life, but I feel that the relationship that I formed with the tree all those years ago made this a very special project for me. So perhaps over the past year or so, I’ve been working with focus to get the tree to campus and facilitate what the students wanted to do with that and working to get the scholarship fund set up.”
The Arsenal Oak Scholarship Fund, which was set up during the process of finding and arranging the arrival of the new oak tree, would be for undergraduate students, Rowan Feldhaus, vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government Association, said.
Not only did it take over a year and many people to make this historical change, Feldhaus personally involved himself when he realized that the Summerville Campus needed its own traditions that would be separate from the Health Sciences Campus.
Upon discovering the meaning behind the symbol of the Arsenal Oak, the SGA collaborated with the Alumni Association to track down the new Arsenal Oak, Feldhaus said.
“Now it’s here,” Feldhaus said. “I’m very proud that it’s here, and more than ecstatic to actually have a scholarship in its name that’s geared toward undergraduate students. It says a lot more that the administration is actually listening to us, that they want this for the students.”
Although the original Arsenal Oak is gone, its memories remain and furthermore, the new generation will have the opportunity to make new ones.
“Our history gives us roots,” Lee Ann Caldwell, university historian, said during the ceremony. “It puts our present into context. It helps us to remember that we are a part of the continuity of this story of this place, and it reminds us that what we are doing is setting the future.”
She continued to reminisce about how the old Arsenal Oak had witnessed the comings and goings of the Walker Family – the family who previously owned the grounds of what is now Augusta University, the early poetry of Stephen Vincent Benet, the civil war era, the early years of Richmond Academy, Augusta College, and now – Augusta University.
“It’s fitting that we dedicate this young descendant of our mighty oak,” Caldwell said. “It will shelter generations of students to come as they grow in knowledge and character on our campus.”
Contact Anna Dresser at firstname.lastname@example.org.