The Friday Letter Archive

A collection of the president's weekly messages to the Vandal family


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Friday Letter 2014-02-26

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February 28, 2014

Dear Friends,

The snows of winter bring a quiet, austere beauty to the Arboretum on our Moscow campus. A white blanket covers the clearings and the frozen ponds.  Deciduous trees from forests around the world stand silently in leafless clusters. Native evergreens and yellow tamaracks sway gently, adding color to a landscape of light and shadow.
Soon spring will come to the Arboretum. When it does, life will abound. Trees, shrubs, and flowers will burst forth in profusion. Geese, ducks, quail, and other wildlife will appear. As summer unfolds, the Arboretum’s walking paths will be filled with strolling visitors. In the fall, when every brilliant hue is on display, the Arboretum will be a destination for artists, photographers, and lovers. In the winter, the cycle will begin again.            
A Symbol Of The Extraordinary

At all times of the year, whenever I recruit prospective students and new members of our faculty or staff, I take them –- if time permits -- to the Arboretum. Invariably, they find it enchanting. I encourage them to think that a university able to create something this extraordinary is also capable of helping them rise above the ordinary in their own lives.
The Arboretum has not always been a place of enchantment, however. Until the 20th century, it was a tract of dusty hills and cheat grass. The transformation was a work of visionaries. You may not recognize the name of the first visionary, C. L. Price, but you probably have heard of his boss: Charles Houston Shattuck. In 1909 Price and Shattuck began the forestry program at the University, and in 1910 they began planting trees in the grove now known as the Shattuck Arboretum -- the first arboretum west of the Mississippi River. Price also beautified the campus by creating the iconic, tree-lined “Hello Walk” as well as the community of trees gracing the Administration Building lawn.
In the late 1970s, the original arboretum vision was expanded to a 63-acre tract contiguous to the golf course -– an area we now call the “new” arboretum or, simply, “the Arboretum.” George Jagon, the University’s director of physical plant, gained President Ernest Hartung’s blessing to begin work on the site. By 1980, the University of Idaho Arboretum & Botanical Garden had emerged. The University recognized the educational value of the Arboretum by naming botany professor Richard Naskali, Ph.D., as the Arboretum’s coordinator and, ultimately, as the Arboretum’s director. Dr. Naskali, in conjunction with horticulturalists Jake Leppart and Paul Warnick, a group of supporters who formed the Arboretum Associates, and a host of civic groups and volunteers, turned the dusty hills into a verdant complex. Through Dr. Naskali’s leadership, the Arboretum earned a national ranking in the Morton Register of Arboreta. It became, and now is, part of the academic life of the University and a place of distinctive beauty on campus.
A Changing Season -- A New President

The story of the Arboretum illustrates how every generation works for the benefit of future generations. In the life of a university, there is a sequence of inter-generational giving and receiving, not unlike the sequence of seasons in the Arboretum itself. In leadership, there is a similar succession of seasons.  Tomorrow, on March 1, 2014, Dr. Chuck Staben, the 18th President of the University of Idaho will take office. He is, as many alumni and friends already know –- and as others will soon discover -- a splendid choice. His abundant talent and collegiality will enable him to bring forth the best in our academic community.
For every arrival there is a departure, but I’ll not travel far. When I carry the last cardboard box out of the president’s office, I’ll drive my old Subaru down the hill from the Administration Building back to the College of Law, where teaching, scholarship, and service await me as a faculty member. Karen and I have been humbled and honored to serve the University in our interim capacity. The service has enabled me to repay a family debt to the institution that opened a gateway of opportunity for my parents during the Great Depression.
We have too many people to thank, but I want to acknowledge all of our unselfish administrative colleagues, faculty, and staff –- including Brett Morris, whose research and ideas have contributed to my joyful task of writing the “Friday Letters.” Thanks also to everyone who has taken time to read them.
Now, a wind is rising -- a sign of coming spring. Above the Arboretum’s tree-lined hills, clouds billow and change shapes as they sweep across the winter sky. If you look closely, you may catch a glimpse of a flagship.

Go Vandals!
Don Burnett
Interim President

Here's the Latest News from the University of Idaho
Theater Students Advance To National Competition. UI theater students have earned the opportunity to participate in prestigious national theater events following their performances at last week’s Region 7 Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival in Boise. MFA candidate Emily Nash and her scene partner MFA candidate Brian Demar Jones were named the Irene Ryan regional winners, from a field of 250 preliminary candidates. In addition, Brian Demar Jones won the regional Musical Theatre Scholarship for his rendition of “There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York” from Porgy & Bess. The Irene Ryan Acting Competition is considered the ultimate college level acting award. Nash and Jones advance to the National Festival in April, at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. There they will showcase their talent and compete against 15 other teams from around the United States.

See More News And Features.

Business, Civic Leader’s Legacy Continues In Endowment For Forestry Students. While dedicating 20 years of his working life to the wholesale oil business, Clifford Lathen ’40 never forgot his roots in the forestry program in the College of Natural Resources. Clifford and his wife, Elsie ’40, left $500,000 in their wills for an endowment that benefits students seeking degrees in Forest Products and Forest Resources. The Clifford F. and Elsie E. Lathen Forestry Scholarship honors the legacy of these longtime Moscow, Idaho leaders. Cliff came to the University of Idaho in 1934. He worked summers for the U. S. Forest Service and for Hale Motors during the school year. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he worked for Potlatch Lumber Mill in Potlatch as safety and personnel manager until he purchased a wholesale oil business in Moscow in 1946. He later developed Lathen Construction and Heavy Hauling. As a civic leader, he also served as a city councilman and in a host of philanthropic organizations. He died in 2004. Elsie taught in Potlatch after graduating from the College of Education, but soon joined Cliff in the oil business. She died in June 2013. For more information on estate planning or giving to the College of Natural Resources, contact Steve Hacker at (208) 885-7400 or