September 21, 2018
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Founders Tree-2011

By: Irene Hilsendager
July 13, 2018

Exhumed from the Rohnert Park archives is an original 1985-typed story by Jud Snyder, longest-term newspaper columnist in the tri-city area. It reads as follows:

Back in the not-so-distant past when I was toiling away for Paul Golis and the long-gone Rohnert Park News, there was a fuss about Sonoma State College’s Founders Tree. It was planted when the college first began in a collection of two-story wooden buildings on College View Drive, a site now occupied by Wild Berry condominiums.

The college had long since moved to its site on East Cotati Avenue, but the Founders Tree, a sturdy evergreen now about 25 feet tall, remained behind. Golis started a campaign to get the tree moved to the new campus. We wrote columns of prose about the necessity to do this and took pictures of the evergreen to show it to its best advantage. But tree experts doubted the tree could be moved: it was just too big and the costs would be prohibitive for such an iffy arboreal future. The campaign died, the tree was chain sawed down and no doubt wound up in someone’s firewood supply stack.

Now in 1985, the tree would probably not be as dominant in appearance as it was on College View. It would be just another fir tree on a tree-laden campus and would require a bronze plaque to differentiate it from the others.

And, now in 1985, Sonoma State University is celebrating its 20th anniversary and the saga of the Founders Tree really pales into insignificance. I’m sure the campus is a storehouse of souvenirs and documents from the early days on College View. Maybe in a dusty corner of a storeroom there’s a section of trunk or shred of bark from the Founders Tree, bearing a label yellowed with age.

And someone is asking, “Why are we saving this?”

It’s most appropriate that Sonoma State University is celebrating its 25th year the same weekend Rohnert Park is marking its 23rd birthday. It took courage for the newly formed state college to put down roots in a city still two years away from incorporation and it was gracious of the community to find room for the collection of faculty and students led by the college’s first president, Dr. Ambrose Nichols.

Under the 99-year agreement, Rohnert Park may annex the university site into its borders, but no other city can. Currently, SSU lays on a 200-acre site west of Petaluma Hill Rd. that was formerly the Benson Ranch. There are no plans to annex, but a strong thread exists between the city and the campus.

The Rohnert Park News still had hope for saving the tree in 1974, stating:

“Does Cal State Sonoma have a Founders’ Tree? Why, sure, say college officials including recently retired President Thomas McGrath. It’s a 15-foot blue spruce tree now solidly in place in the quadrangle of the former campus on College View Drive.

McGrath would like to see this tree transplanted to the campus with a bit of ceremony…sometime this winter when the tree is dormant. Then an appropriate plaque could be put at its base and serve as a memento of the college’s beginnings back in 1962 when the tree was first planted.

But others say why not put the plaque at the base of the tree where it stands now. Uprooting a tree of this size is not an easy matter and the consequent hole in the ground would need some plastic surgery…via expert landscaping.

Meanwhile, until this winter, it remains as Rohnert Park’s most famous tree. It’s located in the quadrangle behind the public library.” (College View buildings, tree and library are all gone.) The only remaining monument to the 1961 founding is an apartment building at 7424 Bridgit, which was featured in another issue of this paper.

Irene Hilsendager’s column each week touches on moments in the history of Cotati, Rohnert Park and Penngrove.