The Giving Tree

Author: Malcolm McDowell Woods

Published Date: 6/1/2023

Categories: F1RST Magazine University News

A man shapes a piece of wood on a lathe
Woodworker Jeff Turner shapes the black walnut on a lathe.

Historic Walnut Lives On

Generations of Carroll students – in fact, all of the students who attended Carroll before 2019 – likely have walked under the shade of a black walnut tree on Main Lawn.

The tree, a towering presence bordering the southern sidewalk leading past Voorhees Hall, was damaged during a 2019 windstorm that toppled numerous trees and ripped off rooftops. After an examination by an arborist later that year, officials decided, somewhat reluctantly, to take the great tree down.

Removing a landmark such as this tree wasn’t a decision taken lightly on a campus that reveres history and tradition. When President Cindy Gnadinger heard that plans were to have wood from the toppled tree carted away, she asked that some be saved and kept here.

“We took it down in the winter, and I asked Tom Heffernan, (director of facilities) what he would do with the tree. He said we’ll have it hauled away,” recalled Gnadinger. But the president already had an idea percolating. 

If you’ve attended academic ceremonies at Carroll, you may have noticed someone near the president holding a tall staff aloft. Called a mace, that staff symbolizes a university’s authority, a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. When Gnadinger arrived at Carroll, she noted that Carroll’s mace was getting a little wobbly and showing its age. She learned it had begun life as a table lamp purchased from a second-hand store in the 1960s and fashioned into a mace by Carroll faculty.

“I’d been thinking it would be nice to have a new mace in honor of our 175th anniversary, and when the tree came down, I thought this tree could make a wonderful mace and continue to serve our campus community for years to come,”said Gnadinger. 

She contacted Kentucky wood artisan, Jeff Turner, with whom she has a long-time connection. He arranged a visit to Carroll to retrieve the wood and set it aside to dry out properly before working on it.

“When he took the wood back to his workshop, he counted over 180 rings,” she said. “So, we know this tree has served this campus since its founding. Students from our very first class walked by it.” 

In January, a small piece of that tree made its debut as the university’s new mace during the annual Founders’ Day celebration, a gift to the university from Gnadinger and her husband, John.

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Panoramic View of campus