Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam ’55 was able to keep her emotions in check eight years ago at the White House when President Barack Obama presented her with the nation’s second highest civilian award, the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal.
But when the revered conservation pioneer learned that Vassar and the Hudson Valley chapter of the Student Conservation Association (SCA) had planted a tree in her honor at the Ecological Preserve, she failed to fight back her tears. “Yeah, I got a little leaky,” Putnam admitted following the brief ceremony Sept. 12 just outside the Priscilla Bullitt Collins Field Station on the Preserve.
Putnam’s senior thesis on the need to address the deterioration of the nation’s national parks led to the creation of the SCA. Since its founding in 1957, the organization has attracted more than 70,000 young people who help care for state and national parks and other public lands throughout the country.
Putnam made the trip from her home in Vermont to help SCA members and about 50 students, faculty and staff take part in the college’s annual Day of Service, held this year on the afternoon of Sept. 11 and the morning of Sept. 12. Volunteers planted more than 300 trees, removed invasive vines from parts of the forest and built boardwalks over some swampland to enhance the trail network.
But Putnam wasn’t expecting to see a 12-foot-high swamp white oak tree sitting by itself in a hole in the ground just outside the Field Station. “I was called a chatterbox when I was a kid, but right now I’m speechless,” she said as about 30 SCA members clapped and cheered.