By Lynn Swain

Jim Spencer, Jr. (MS ’71) wanted a special Christmas present for his parents. Knowing there was a tree honoring his grandfather somewhere on the Ag Quad at Cornell, he reached out to the university to see if he might dedicate additional trees in honor of his parents, James Spencer (BCE ’49, MCE ’51) and Dorothy Dye Spencer (BS ’49, MEd ’64).

After conversation with Cornell Botanic Gardens staff, Jim chose a grove of five crabapple trees in the F. R. Newman Arboretum to honor his family. They are in the midst of the Crabapple Collection across the bridge from Houston Pond. Jim wanted a collection that could be reached easily from a parking area, since his parents are in their 90s and not as mobile as they once were.

His mother was surprised when he arrived at his sister’s house in Iowa a few days before Christmas. He announced his gift on Dorothy’s birthday. She was shocked and delighted. Jim and his parents spent the winter deciding how to list family members on the dedication tags. Jim was prompted to delve into family history, discovering his uncle’s master’s thesis in the Cornell library, and tracking down graduation dates for various family members.

The Dye and Spencer families have deep roots in Ithaca. Jim, Jr.’s grandfather, Ward Spencer, was born in Ithaca and raised his son here. James Spencer, Sr. is a retired professor from Cornell’s Department of Agricultural Engineering where he guided a local roads program. He was Vice Director of Cooperative Extension, Associate Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, board chairman for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Vice Provost during his long Cornell career. Dorothy Dye Spencer was also born in Ithaca. Her father, Joseph A. Dye (PhD ’25) was a professor of human physiology at Cornell.

In May 2019, Jim joined his parents to hang the dedication tags on the crabapple trees in the Dye-Spencer Family Grove. One tree is dedicated to Dorothy’s parents and her four brothers who all attended Cornell. A second tree honors Jim, Sr.’s parents. A tree each for Jim and Dorothy, and a newly planted crabapple recognizes their children. “Dorothy’s” tree was almost in bloom.

Dorothy said, “this is the best Christmas present ever!” Cornell Botanic Gardens is proud to honor this deeply rooted Ithaca family in this way.

Now is the time to visit the Jenning’s Crabapple Collection in the arboretum. Click here to view some of the varieties you can explore.