Oliver “Ollie” Diller ’30 was instrumental in tree planting and preservation on the Bluffton University campus for many years. In the 2007 President’s forum, President Harder noted that, “hundreds of the trees on campus today are Ollie’s trees—both the trees most common to northwest Ohio as well as the specimen trees that add variety and uniqueness to Bluffton’s landscape: trees such as the little-leaf linden, the persimmon, the ironwood, the maiden hair Ginko tree, the tuliptree, Japanese zelkova, cornelian cherry, bald cypress, red horse chestnut, and Serbian spruce.”
Diller served on the Board of Trustees from 1943 to 1970. On October 15, 1965, the day of President Robert Kreider’s inauguration, Diller gave the speech below as part of a chapel service. The inaugural grove to which he refers is located between Musselman Library and College Hall. Look for the stone marker located near the top of the ramp to the lower entrance of the library.
As fall colors begin to appear here on campus and harvest happens in our surrounding rural areas, it seems fitting to share Diller’s words about trees and their part in our greater world.
Our Campus Trees – A Symbol of Continuity
We all know that the life of a tree may far transcend the life of any human being. Our interesting campus is an attractive all-aged forest which contains trees ranging from one year old seedlings to mature trees over 200 years of age.
Bluffton’s beautiful campus, formerly known as Eaton’s Woods, was originally a mixed forest association consisting of some of the elms, ashes, and maples of the “Great Black Swamp” of northwestern Ohio in combination with many other species which made up the beech-maple and oak-hickory forests of the better drained soils of the state.
This morning we are dedicating a small portion of the campus as an “Inaugural Grove.” In a short time we will be planting seven small oak seedlings on the fringe of this grove which already contains a natural stand of maples, oaks, basswood, cherry, and other native hardwoods, with an understory of shrubs, herbs, and wildflowers.
Some of you will probably be disappointed in the small size of the seven oak trees we are planting. This is being done with a purpose. In America, we think we have to do things in a big way. We equate bigness with greatness. This was brought home to me very forcibly when I attended the III World Forestry Congress in Finland a few years ago. Some of us were being entertained in a yacht club near Helsinki. There was a beautiful rainbow out across the bay. An American in his typical tourist modesty threw out his chest and said, “Well, that’s an American rainbow.” But a Finn sitting next to him replied, “No, you Americans may have a bigger one but that one is ours.”
When I went to the New York World’s Fair last year I attended the dedication of the New Queens Botanic Garden. In typical Robert Moses fashion they had planted 30-foot tall beech trees most of which were half dead by the end of the first growing season. The engineers didn’t understand that a big tree must have an adequate root system to support it. The administrators in charge of this project decided they had to have big trees right now. Their biological ignorance resulted in “unhappy” trees and a tremendous waste of money.
In my opinion, one of the great virtues which Americans need to cultivate individually and collectively is patience. We should learn that greatness has a small beginning and a small seed can eventually result in a rewarding harvest. The seven trees we are planting today range from one to three years of age from the acorn. There are many lessons we can learn from an acorn. One of the Bible’s profoundest lessons is a simple one: that “he who would find his life must lose it.” An oak tree can be born only as the acorn dies. Those who would follow Christ must forget self and become servants of men. This was the example set by Schweitzer, Kagawa, and many other stalwart Christians.
I believe it is generally recognized that history and mathematics form the bridges between the humanities and the sciences. Historians tell us that civilization can only grow when there is a release of surplus energy which allows man time to think and to create. Therefore, its first necessity is to find surplus wealth and to use it to provide leisure and power. To acquire this wealth one civilization after another has raided the landscape’s capital, robbing it of trees, fertility, and water. But ultimately, no civilization can survive unless it learns to repay this Capital and to live on the income of its natural resources. Our present civilization has carried this destruction of the landscape farther than any of its predecessors, and this poses one of the most urgent questions of today: “Can we repair the ravages of the past and so manipulate the landscape that it will yield an income on which the people of the world can live?”
In terms of food production, we have demonstrated that we can provide a huge surplus in the United States but whether sufficient world resources can be made available to achieve this end on a sustained yield basis in the future is another question.
Throughout history, man’s attitude to the landscape and the good earth has shown sometimes a negative and sometimes a positive approach. The negative approach regards the landscape as a storehouse to be plundered or an enemy to be subdued. William Blake wrote in one of his letters, “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” In northwestern Ohio we have taken a negative approach toward our forests. We regard them as impediments to progress so we bulldoze them out. The result has been more corn, soybeans, and tomatoes along with a lowered water table, more severe winds, and more soil erosion which has contributed to the pollution of Lake Erie. Livestock grazing and clearing of our woodlands has taken its toll in birds and wildlife.
Bluffton College is and has been fortunate in having an administration, trustees, faculty, students, friends, and consultants who take a positive approach toward our landscape. We are trying to cultivate a conscious enjoyment and appreciation of our whole created world. We have plans for the development of not only a more beautiful campus but we have hopes for a greenbelt area, woodland biological laboratories, and outdoor recreation areas on the fringes of the campus and throughout Allen, Hancock, and Putnam counties as an auxiliary program of Bluffton College.
At least five small countries in various parts of the world have shown creative efforts in developing a balanced quality environment. Japan, Switzerland, Finland, Holland, and Israel, entirely different in climate, geography, and history are each building pleasant landscapes within which men may live full lives. The leaders in these countries realize that the landscape is an interrelated, biological complex in which water conservation, forestry, agriculture, and all the works of man and nature are linked and interacting. They recognize the truth of Aldo Leopold’s statement that land is not a commodity belonging to man but a commodity to which man belongs.
I have here two acorns which I recently obtained from a swamp white oak tree just outside Founders Hall. The Mother of these acorns is one of the most attractive trees on the campus. It was planted about twenty years ago. Today President Kreider will plant a one year old seedling which is a progeny of this tree. This represents a symbol of continuity of office from the Ramseyer to the Kreider administration. The remaining six oak seedlings will be planted by persons representing the student body, faculty, alumni, the community, the trustees, and our President emeritus.
These are all native species and I am sure they will “feel at home” on the campus in association with the other trees already growing in this inaugural grove.
Last spring when I visited a nurseryman in the Cleveland area I complimented him on the excellent appearance of his plants. He said, “I’ll tell you my secret. I smile at them every time I walk by and they smile back at me.” Martin Buber told us we can learn to love the world — things, animals, people, stars — as Thou, and that when we do love them and address them as Thou, they always respond. so, let us always regard these small trees and the others in this inaugural grove with respect and appreciation as a symbol of continuity.