Gerry Wood: working in harmony with nature

February 9, 2018

In 1990, Gerald “Gerry” Wood returned to Eastern Nazarene College to assume the position of associate director of enrollment services, the department now known as Admissions.

Wood said he always enjoyed touring gardens in his spare time. During his recruitment efforts, he kept in mind Eastern’s appeal to prospective students’ sense of community and desire for an environment that fostered spiritual formation and a network with other Christians.

Before Wood’s return, former ENC alumnus Vernon Babcock oversaw the campus landscaping. After his retirement, plants had grown out of control and overrun the grounds. Small accent plants that Babcock had planted grew unchecked. Plants such as the cryptomeria, a conifer tree often used as a hedge and kept small, had grown over the roofs of buildings. Many trees became infected with fungi or rot, and went unidentified as needing to be removed.

Wood surveyed the campus and wrote a detailed report of what he saw. He submitted his observations to the director of enrollment services with a recommendation that these issues be addressed. He argued that making such improvements would convey a sense of peace, beauty, and harmony with nature to anyone walking across the campus.

Wood received permission from the administration – and a grant of $1,000 – to begin implementing improvements. He volunteered his time and talents to work on the grounds, while holding his position as the assistant director of enrollment services, often working late into the night to get all his work done.

Wood said his first priority was to remove the dying and overgrown trees. Fifty trees were taken down that first year. During Homecoming, Wood recalled that more than one alumnus remarked, “Wow! You added so many new trees.” But the reverse was true. Wood said this was a case of not seeing the trees through the thicket. By culling the overgrowth, people could see and appreciate the healthy trees that remained.

By 1993, Wood received a yearly grant of $2,000 to continue his work. That year he created and named the Babcock Arboretum in honor of Vernon Babcock. Wood and his team of helpers identified and labeled all the trees on campus, some of which dated back hundreds of years to when the Quincy family lived on the land that Eastern now occupies.

In 1994, Wood convinced Sudexo, the third party vendor that Eastern had contracted for landscaping services, to hire a full-time groundskeeper. He contacted David Cox, a horticulturist from Longwood Gardens with more than 30 years of experience, to recommend potential candidates for what Wood saw as an entry-level grounds keeping position. To his surprise, Cox applied for the job himself, saying it appealed to his sense of performing mission work.

Wood said it is important for people to realize that maintaining the serene, inviting nature of Eastern requires more than just planting some trees. His work included coordinating and designing details such as installing benches that matched in style and complemented other elements of the campus, erecting retaining walls that blended seamlessly with the landscape and surrounding buildings, and changing the lighting found on campus. Wood said after the new lighting scheme had been implemented, he remembered flying into Logan Airport one night and as he looked out the window, the campus looked like “a jewel” from the air.

Today, people like Sam Mohnkern have inherited the mantle and continue the great tradition of keeping Eastern’s campus healthy to ensure that it continues to provide a space for current and future generations to enjoy.