Degree Earned:B.A. in History
Long before today’s environmental movement got underway Mary Soons McCarty ’88 was championing the secret life of trees.
Mary Soons McCarty ’88 has always had an interest in the environment—both personal and academic. “I learned gardening from my mother,” says McCarty, who grew up on a three-acre estate in New Jersey. “She would take visitors on tours, much the way I do today in my garden, and point out the varieties and histories of the plants and trees. That really stuck with me.”
Even after moving to Pittsford, N.Y., with her family in 1977, McCarty’s love of horticulture persisted. She had attended Vassar but dropped out early to marry; nonetheless, she decided to finish her undergraduate degree at Nazareth College. While completing her coursework, McCarty undertook an independent study with Professor of Biology William Hallahan.
For her project, McCarty completed a census of trees on the then 75-acre Nazareth campus. She identified and cataloged more than 30 species and 400 trees. Her research offered an investigation and analysis of every tree on campus, including its condition and recommendations for maintenance. McCarty also collaborated with illustrator Kimberley Ann Mincer ’86 to create a 16-month calendar featuring the trees of Nazareth.
But it was one tree in particular that piqued McCarty’s interest: a white oak situated near the Gerald G. Wilmot Music Hall. Legend has it that the sprawling oak was used by the Native American Seneca tribe as a council tree, a meeting place to discuss and settle disputes with area settlers.
Naturally, the Council Oak tree formed part of McCarty’s independent census. “Mary’s project still stands today as a valuable resource for the College,” says Hallahan. “Probably the most important recommendation she made was to turn the space around the Council Oak into an arboretum.” In 2002, McCarty realized her recommendation of a Council Oak arboretum by donating funds to construct log-hewn benches for Nazareth’s first-ever outdoor classroom.
Over the years, McCarty and her husband have generously provided for the Council Oak’s maintenance, including pruning and fertilizing. She also lobbies to ensure that the tree doesn’t fall victim to campus expansion. “Ultimately my goal is to broaden the spectrum of people who are aware of the value of trees,” shares McCarty, “and what they can teach us.”
Even now, she continues her commitment to activism, conservation, and education. Most recently, McCarty donated funds to build a greenhouse for Nazareth’s Integrated Center for Math and Science. The Integrated Center—Nazareth’s next major undertaking—will enhance the College’s ability to provide a top-notch, foundational education in math and science. Crucial to this vision, for McCarty, is a continued pledge to study, understand, and preserve the natural life on and near campus, today and in the future.
And trendy or not, McCarty’s passion for protecting the environment endures. “I know I’m the tree lady,” she explains, “and I’ll keep advocating for the trees and other green efforts at Nazareth.”