Associate Professor of Biology Jeffrey Van Zant is looking to brighten up Slayton Arboretum.
After Ranessa Cooper, former associate professor of biology, left Hillsdale to become the Department Chair of Biological Sciences at Western Illinois University, Van Zant approached the college and offered to step up as the new director of the Arboretum.
“It requires a lot of maintenance to maintain the Arboretum. You’re juggling any number of balls. There are a lot of spokes going out from the Arb director,” Van Zant said. “But I have loved the Arb since I’ve been here. I take my kids there a lot, and I was just looking to do a little bit more.”
Van Zant will manage everything from the Arboretum grounds to its accounts to its horticulturist.
“Van Zant has always been a supporter of the Arb,” Laurie Rosenberg, Arboretum Program Coordinator, said.
Rosenberg added that Van Zant brings his kids along to almost every Arb event, and it has become a running joke.
“Whenever we take pictures of any events in the Arb, it’s always featuring his kids. They have always been the unofficial face of the arboretum,” she said.
Cooper served as the Slate Arboretum Director for 16 years, and and in that time, one of her major accomplishments was to restore the waterfall.
“Her big legacy was the waterfall. That was a huge project,” Rosenberg said. “It had fallen into a lot of disrepair before Cooper came, so it was a big push to regenerate and restore the waterfall.”
Van Zant inherited a five-year plan for the Arboretum’s development from Cooper, which calls for the restoration of the Arboretum’s historical witch hazel, magnolia, and lilac collections, for which the Arboretum was once famous.
“I am pleased that Jeff has taken over as Director of Slayton Arboretum,” Cooper said in an email. “He will work well with the Arb staff to promote the mission put forth by [the original Arboretum director] Bertram Barber.”
While Van Zant has yet to plan any major projects, he is considering expanding the Christmas light show from the Children’s Garden to parts of the regular Arboretum.
“I like Christmas lights, and I think the more, the merrier,” Van Zant said. “The waterfall is lit at night, but I think you could light things in the ponds there, in the stone house, and things like that.”
Students who volunteered in the Arboretum said expanding the light show might require more workers to pull it off.
“It would take a long time. It already takes us most of November to put the lights up. But if we could get enough people to do it, I’m sure it would look cool,” senior Abraham Paternoster said. “It would just be a question of manpower.”
The Arboretum’s stone cottage might also receive a facelift. After a pipe burst during the summer, the college made renovations to the cottage, and Van Zant is considering using the opportunity to polish the cottage’s appearance.
“This would be a good chance to replace the windows and the tile, but do we have the money to do that?” Van Zant said. “We’d like it to look nice in there, so can we get some new furniture and make it [look] like a botany lab in the days when it was first built.”
Van Zant is also considering opening the greenhouse in the Dow Science building as a study area. He plans to monitor the greenhouse conditions this winter to see whether adding tables and chairs would be practical.
“Very few people go into the greenhouse, and I’d like to open it up more and make it more of a usable space. If you keep the environment where it is warm enough and not too humid, I think we can attract students in there,” Van Zant said. “It’d be a nice place during the winter — nice and green.”
Junior Eleni Bestolarides said that the arb is in good hands.
“I’ve known him since I was a freshman. It’s been really cool getting to know someone who is like a professor, dad figure,” Bestolarides said. “I’m optimistic. I think the Arb under him will continue to grow and change.”