Special Reunions / Botany Majors
For botany majors of yore, field trips were always a particularly important part of their Pomona education. Today, those same students from the 1940s through the 1970s are still heading out into the field, accompanied by the same beloved professor who helped inspire their interests in botany all those years ago.
Since 2000, when Lucile Housley ’55 organized the first trip, alumni with ties to Pomona’s one-time Botany Department have gathered for annual get-togethers in breathtaking locales ranging from windswept Point Reyes to sandswept Death Valley. Most of the alumni share a connection to Professor Emeritus of Botany Ed Phillips, who today is 96 and still attends the gathering each year. He taught at the College from 1948 until his retirement in 1980, a few years after the Botany Department was merged into the Biology Department.
Upwards of 75 Sagehens have attended at least one of the gatherings over the years, including some who travel from as far as the East Coast and Hawaii. “They come again and again,” says Phillips. “They want to keep going and I do, too.”
As reported by Thomas Mulroy ’68 and Ralph Philbrick ’55, this year’s gathering was held in May at Cachuma Lake, drawing about 35 people to camp at the scenic spot in Santa Barbara County. The trip included hiking, viewing wildflowers in bloom and singing around the campfire at night. Day outings included a visit to S&S Seeds’ Rancho Las Flores in Los Alamos, where owner and founder of this pioneering native plant seed business Victor Schaff gave a tour of his growing fields of California natives. Then the group drove over the pine-covered Harris Grade to La Purisima Mission near Lompoc to hear from Steve Junak, expert field botanist for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.
Mulroy, who taught at Pomona decades ago and is now an environmental consultant, notes that the group “includes academic and professional botanists and biologists, people in various agricultural pursuits, medicine, business, secondary school and primary school teachers, as well as a wide variety of endeavors unrelated to botany or biology.”
“The mingling of ages is unbelievable,” he adds. “It’s a joy.”
Noting how quickly people who’ve never met before connect on these trips, Professor Phillips has a theory about the special botany-major bond that develops in college. “I think it really comes right down to the field trips,’’ he says. “You learn not only about botany but about life. You learn how to get along with people.”