UW-Madison emeritus professor Larry Meiller has been chosen as the first recipient of the Wisconsin Tree Legacy Fund’s Joyce Kilmer Award. Meiller is on the faculty in the CALS Department of Life Sciences Communication and an active member of the Dane County Tree Board. For over 34 years he has broadcast a daily radio program on Wisconsin Public Radio. On Fridays that program, called “Garden Talk,” is a call-in show giving listeners the opportunity to ask landscape questions of University experts and other professional specialists. Trees are a favorite topic.
The Wisconsin Tree Legacy Fund has recently been established to provide an opportunity for caring individuals and organizations to contribute to tree research and education at the University of Wisconsin. Gifts provide opportunities for the best scientists, instructors and students at the University and their collaborators across the state to study trees growing within our landscape and address issues of health, maintenance and environmental interaction.
The Joyce Kilmer Award recognizes an individual or organization’s outstanding efforts in advancing the Tree Legacy Fund’s goals. Kilmer (1886 – 1918) was a frequent visitor to Wisconsin. Weeks before his deployment to Europe in WWI, he delivered the Campion College commencement address in Prairie du Chien, promising to return to Wisconsin as a full-time resident. It was a promise he could not keep. He died in combat and was buried in France.
Kilmer had attained international fame in 1913 upon publication of his simple but poignant poem “Trees.” According to legend, the poem had been inspired by a magnificent oak he passed by daily while an undergraduate at Rutgers College in New Brunswick, New Jersey. When that tree came down in 1963, pieces of the wood came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison through a graduate student of Walter Rowlands, professor in the Department of Agricultural Engineering (now Biological Systems Engineering) and an avocational woodworker. In 1986, R. Bruce Allison, author of Every Root an Anchor-Wisconsin’s Famous and Historic Trees (Wisconsin Historical Society Press; 2005) and founding contributor of the Tree Legacy Fund, contacted Walter Rowlands’ widow, Shirley Rowlands. She gave Allison the remaining pieces of the Kilmer Oak that he then had carved into small meaningful mementos. One of those rare pieces, a carved acorn, is attached to the plaque presented to Meiller.