Drought Claims Beloved Pickle Tree

By Scott Craig   |   July 15, 2021
Workers removed the beloved Pickle Tree on June 17

Long before Westmont founder Ruth Kerr decided to move the burgeoning college to the former Dwight Murphy Estate in Montecito, the grounds featured a wide array of mature trees. Today, many overarching trees still provide shade for walkways serenely wending their way through campus. One soaring redwood tree on Kerrwood Lawn was well-known for its eccentric shape, which inspired the affectionate nickname Pickle Tree in recent years. When the college moved to Montecito from Los Angeles in 1945, the redwood tree was one of about five on the lawn. On June 17, the last remaining of this set of trees, was removed. 

Beginning in 2002, lighting the 115-foot-tall tree became an annual Westmont Christmas tradition for alums, professors, staff members, students, and local residents. The celebration featured caroling, playful new traditions, and a Santa Claus for the children. After the 2008 Tea Fire blazed through campus, the college lit the tree in thankfulness that most of the campus remained intact despite losses from the fire.

In recent years, hundreds of alumni would gather around the Pickle Tree to kick off the Christmas season

For more than a decade the enormous tree suffered significant damage due to the drought. Longtime groundskeeper Phil Baker, who retired this year, labored intensively with an arborist to prolong the life of the tree. During and following the drought, they inspected it and did deep-root fertilization as well as irrigation. But the drought inflicted too much damage, and the tree died.

For some time, the condition of the tree has raised concerns about the safety of the campus community. Redwoods are brittle trees, and dead branches can break off and hurt people when they fall. 

Crews with Montecito Tree Care carefully took it down in six-foot sections, even creating two benches with the wood. College officials hope to create commemorative items with the remaining wood and donate some of it to artists for their use.

Lead Where You Stand Features David Brooks 

Keynote speakers David Brooks, Erin Meyer, Gayle D. Beebe, Marcus “Goodie” Goodloe, and Lisa DeBoer shared insights on effective and purposeful leadership at the 2021 “Lead Where You Stand” Virtual Conference, which is available for streaming for $99 at westmont.edu/lead.

Brooks, The New York Times columnist and author of the bestselling book The Road to Character, offers two talks, “The American Experiment in Motion: Cultivating the Social and Cultural Resources to Transform the Moment” and “Wisdom After COVID: Developing the Personal and Spiritual Disciplines to Transcend the Chaos.”

Meyer, author of The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, discusses “No Rules Rules: Creating an Organizational Culture that Breeds Innovation and Flexibility.”

Beebe, president at Westmont since 2007 and author of the book The Shaping of an Effective Leader: Eight Formative Principles of Leadership, spoke about “Meaning Making as a Leader.”

Goodloe, author of the book King Maker: Applying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Leadership Lessons in Working with Athletes and Entertainers, speaks about “Holding Court with the King: Leadership Lessons from the Life and Times of Dr. Martin Luther King.”

DeBoer, professor of art at Westmont and winner of the Lilly Fellows Program’s Arlin G. Meyer Prize for academic nonfiction, offers three short talks about “Imagining the Room Where It Happens.”

The Mosher Center for Moral and Ethical Leadership, the Brittingham Family Foundation and the Montecito Institute sponsored the event.


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