Mason Pond Grove Honors Deceased; Marks Notable Occasions

Posted: July 29, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Nick Walker

Mason’s memorial grove lies on the eastern side of the Mason Pond on the Fairfax Campus. Most of the trees are Yoshino cherry, the same variety as those planted around the tidal basin in Washington, D.C.

Commemorations in the grove began in January 1998 as part of Mason’s ceremonial tree program. An individual tree signifies either a death in the campus community or a notable occasion. Most of the trees are accompanied by a plaque that describes the honored person or event.

Memorial grove on Fairfax Campus
Part of the memorial grove on the Fairfax Campus, looking toward Mason Pond.

One tree commemorates Carl Harris, former associate dean of the Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering, who passed away in 2000.

Harris previously served as the chair of the department now known as Systems Engineering and Operations Research. Ariela Sofer, the current department chair, recalls Harris well.

“He was my boss when this school was established in 1986. I was an assistant professor at that time. He saw me through my career until the time I was a full professor,” Sofer says.

“He died unexpectedly at the age of 60, and we were all devastated. He was such a kind man, full of life, open to everyone who came into his office at any time,” Sofer says. “He was very generous with his time to both faculty and students. He instilled in our department a very collegial atmosphere that has remained ever since.”

Having a tree dedicated to Harris is particularly appropriate, Sofer says.

“Carl was Jewish, and there’s a real tradition in his religion of planting trees as kind of a living memorial, of life continuing,” Sofer says. “So it’s really fitting that the memorial on campus be a living tree. Even if Mason didn’t have a program, we knew that was what Carl would want.”

O’Connor McBride, a Mason locksmith since 1995, also knew several people now honored by commemorative trees.

McBride was a good friend of Sat Krouch, a locksmith who came to the United States as a refugee from Cambodia at the age of 15. Krouch worked at Mason for 11 years until his death in 2001.

“When he was diagnosed with liver cancer, I used to go with him to and from Johns Hopkins Medical Center for his treatment. It worked for a while, but then things got worse,” McBride says.

“Right before he died, I took him on a trip to the Florida Keys,” McBride continues. “On the way down, he was driving 110 miles per hour on I-95. I said, ‘Sat, you’re going to get a ticket.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Who cares?’ He knew he had only one month to live.”

Krouch and McBride’s friendship was featured in a previous Gazette article.

McBride also knew trades technician Troy Wilhelm, who passed away in 2004 in a motorcycle accident.

Kenny Barbour, the man who originally hired McBride, died of a heart attack in 2005. He also has a tree by the pond. So does Genice Brown, another Facilities employee who died from cancer in 2006.

Connor McBride plaque
Mason Gazette photos

But one of the most recent additions is a tree for Connor McBride, O’Connor’s son, who passed away in 2007.

“Connor worked in Facilities right out of high school and stayed for seven years. The tree went up two weeks after his death – the process usually takes much longer,” says McBride.

Some trees are dedicated to groups rather than individuals.

For example, Phi Mu Sorority has their own tree, with their motto “Love, Honor and Truth” on the plaque.

In 2000, Sexual Assault Services (SAS) and the Greek community dedicated a tree to “All Victims of Violence.” Every April, SAS ties a purple ribbon to the tree during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. They also tie a purple ribbon to the tree of Anh-Tuan Tran, an international student at Mason who died in 2003.

Several plum trees were planted in the grove in 2006 to celebrate Mason’s connections with China.

An individual or group who wishes to add a tree to this area should contact Archie Nesbitt, Grounds Shop supervisor, or Facilities Management. Although cherry trees are preferred, donors may suggest other varieties with the approval of the Grounds Shop.

Each donor is usually responsible for maintaining their site for one year, after which time it becomes the permanent property of the university and part of routine landscape maintenance operations.

Ceremonial installations may not promote political or social positions without the approval of university administration. Similar guidelines apply for artwork or other plant and landscaping donations.

Grounds Shop Supervisor Archie Nesbitt contributed to this article.

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