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A Tree Grows in Lexington

As one of the guests at Washington and Lee’s 250th anniversary celebration in May 1999, Kitty Dunlap received a small pot containing a spruce seedling from the Christmas tree farm at Skylark, W&L’s property on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The symbolic seedling, as Kitty remembers, was to remind everyone to pay attention to their roots. Kitty took her seedling home and nurtured it over this past decade. Each time it outgrew the pot on her front steps, she’d replant it to a larger pot. Finally it outgrew the pots, and she planted it in her Lexington backyard.  But Kitty, who is now in her 51st year as a W&L employee, began to fret when she looked out in the backyard and saw the spruce stretching its branches. “It wasn’t fair for it not to have the space it really needed to grow,” Kitty said. “I thought maybe I could trim it back, but it just wouldn’t work. It needed more room than I could give it.” So one day this fall, Kitty, who once served as the administrative assistant to ROTC and now is the receptionist in Washington Hall, was chatting with W&L President Ken Ruscio. “I told him about this little tree needing a home,” she said. The president knew exactly what to do. He called Facilities Management and passed along to them the story of Kitty’s tree. Before long, a spot was found near Lee Chapel where a spruce would have all the room it needs to grow to its full height. In early September, a crew successfully transplanted the tree from Kitty’s backyard to its new home on the campus — “where it belongs,” Kitty said. “I’m thrilled that it can go where it can get as big as it wants, that it has a home where it can thrive.” For his part, President Ruscio said it was an easy call: “Kitty is an example of someone who has worked here for 50 years and is definitely not unmindful of the future.”