The Beal Legacy

7 09 2012

This photograph shows Dr. Beal sitting in his “Wild Garden,” before planting had begun.

Being the famous pioneer Land Grant Institute that Michigan State University is, it follows that we have been a leader in environmental activism since the college was established.  The area of East Lansing that was to become the Michigan Agricultural College originally belonged to the Potawatomi tribe, who maintained the landscape by setting fires on a regular basis.  When the first class dedicated the grounds, one student, Charles Monroe, commented on the scene, where he noticed that, “…at every point of the compass to which you turned, you beheld dead and blackened trees which presented a most desolate scene.”

“The Pinetum” is one of the many natural areas set aside during Beal’s time that still exists today.

Creating and maintaining a beautiful campus became a goal for the school.  Within four years of Monroe’s statement, students had planted 2,000 trees on campus.  Ten years after that, Dr.’s Robert Kedzie and William Beal began work not just on campus, but throughout Michigan to replenish the many pine forests removed earlier in the century.   They began the process of acquiring land across Michigan, which today reaches 17,000 acres, for the purpose of preservation and study, and they set aside over 200 acres on the school grounds to maintain as natural areas.  In 1873, Dr. William J. Beal created his most impressive specimen on campus: what was affectionately known as his “Wild Garden,” later renamed the Beal Botanical Garden.  As of today, the garden is the oldest of its kind in the United States, and it holds over 5,000 species and varieties of plants.

Beal built a structure for botany on campus that has gotten MSU national recognition, even being ranked in America’s 25 Most Aesthetic Campuses in 1992 by Thomas Gaines.  He created small arboretums across campus that miraculously still stand today, he made what is thought to be one of the first tree and plant labeling programs in the country – which is now the most extensive in America, he established a laboratory and collection for a botanic museum, and he pioneered research into multiple areas of botanical study.  In addition, as early as 1873, he was responsible for starting the tradition at MSU of trading seeds and plant species with horticulturists around the world, bringing the college’s botanical practice into the international sphere.

The Beal Botanical Garden is shown here fully operational, almost forty years after its creation in 1909.

The careful observance and maintenance of our campus’s plants has not lessened since the time when Beal painstakingly began his work.  Bruce McCristal explains in his book The Spirit of Michigan State that MSU currently holds over 7,800 types of trees, plants, and flowers on the grounds, with—just to make an impression—over 300 varieties of crab apple trees.  The landscapers of MSU work tirelessly year-round, taking down around a hundred diseased trees every year and adding up to 400 more.  And in addition to this, we continue to create new gardens and walkways each year to showcase the ever on-going and incredible work of our botanists.

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Kedzie Descendant Visits Archives

26 07 2011

Sue and Mike Misteravich meet with Director Cynthia Ghering to look at Kedzie family papers and photographs.

On Friday, July 22, Sue Misteravich, a descendant of Robert C. Kedzie and Frank S. Kedzie, visited the archives to learn more about her relatives.  Sue did not realize her family connection to MSU until her son decided to attend college here.  At a family dinner Sue’s mother mentioned that it was great that he was attending a school where they had family ties.  Unaware of her family’s connection, Sue’s mother explained the family history going back to Robert Clark Kedzie who began teaching at Michigan Agricultural College back in 1863, shortly after the school opened.  His son was Frank S. Kedzie who was president of MSU from 1915-1921.  Sue’s great grandfather was William Knowlton Kedzie, brother to Frank.  William Kedzie died at a young age, so his son Roscoe Kedzie, Sue’s grandfather, was raised by Frank.  Roscoe lived on the campus as a young boy and created a newsletter, The Eagle, that told of campus happenings between 1892-1893, until “The powers that be decided that school was of greater importance.”

In addition to looking at The Eagle, Sue also looked photo albums from Frank Kedzie and his wife Kate Marvin Kedzie, cartoons of school mentioning Robert Clark Kedzie, student remembrances of Robert Clark Kedzie, and several photographs of both Kedzies.