It's survived hurricanes, tornadoes and lighting strikes. It’s witnessed its home, The University of Southern Mississippi, evolve from a small teacher’s college more than 100 years ago to a premier university in American higher education.
The iconic live oak tree in front of Kennard-Washington Hall, considered an aesthetic treasure by USM students, faculty and staff over the last century-plus, now has a fitting moniker – “Legacy Oak” – bestowed on it during the University’s Arbor Day celebration Feb. 10. The university also marked its sixth year of holding the Tree Campus USA designation by the Arbor Day Foundation.
Legacy Oak was the winner of the contest to come up with a name for the tree, based on an idea proposed by Van Arnold, assistant director for media relations in the USM Office of University Communications. Stephen McCay, a USM alumnus and staff member, submitted the winning entry that bested Eagle’s Landing, Resilience Oak and Harmony Oak in the vote tally.
McCay, a native of Gulfport, said he’s always enjoyed seeing the tree since his undergraduate days at USM. He is assistant director of operations for USM’s Thad Cochran Center and a doctoral student in the university’s higher education administration and student affairs program.
“It’s beautiful, and so symbolic of our past, present and future,” said McCay. “I hope it will always be here for our students, including my own children,” he said.
The naming of the tree came four years to the day that a tornado struck the Hattiesburg campus, which damaged buildings and many trees in its historic district. The day’s events also included the planting of three trees in front of McLemore Hall with assistance from students at the DuBard School, part of the university’s plans for replacing those lost in the 2013 tornado.
Considering the forces of Mother Nature the tree has survived, the name is appropriate, said Dr. Chris Crenshaw, associate vice president for facilities planning and management at USM.
“It’s been resilient, strong and enduring over the last 100 years. That’s how you leave a legacy, and that’s what we encourage our students to do,” Crenshaw said.
Sponsors of the day’s events included Barnes & Noble, Campus Book Mart, Ed's Burger Joint, McAlister's Deli, Neel-Schaffer Inc., Qdoba Mexican Eats, Smoothie King, Southern Miss Athletics, the USM Student Government Association and T-Bone Records.