Tree Planting Honors University’s Century of Service to Rotary


Southeast Missouri State University celebrated the 100th anniversary of Rotary in Cape Girardeau and the service of all University Rotarians during the past century with a tree planting April 5 on the front lawn of Academic Hall.

A black gum tree was planted and a decorative stone and plaque next to it were unveiled marking the partnership the University and Rotary have shared for 100 years. The tree, which will produce Redhawk-red fall foliage, commemorates 100 years of dedicated and selfless service to Rotary by the University’s faculty, staff, administration and alumni.

“We are extremely appreciative of the Cape Girardeau Rotary Club and the Cape West Rotary Club for their gift of this tree that not only marks this milestone but also forever symbolizes the impact of Rotary on this community and Southeast Missouri State,” said Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of Southeast Missouri State University.

To celebrate their 100-year anniversary, the Rotary Club planted 100 trees in the past year honoring their founder, Paul Harris, and the Rotary’s positive impact in local communities around the world. The tree at Southeast is the 101st Friendship Tree to be planted by the Rotary Club, said U.S. District Court Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., co-chair of the Cape Girardeau Rotary Centennial Celebration.

“What perfect place it is to have the 101st tree here in front of Academic Hall and by the American flag to commemorate the services of more than 50 Rotarians who have also been University faculty and administrators over the course of 100 years,” he said. “From that number, seven Rotarians were also university presidents, including Dr. Vargas. Five more of those university faculty and administrators were district governors. And so our idea was to plant the 101st tree right here. It is going to be a beautiful tree as it grows up—a magnificent tree—and hopefully it’ll last another 100 years.”

The University appreciates the Rotary’s dedication to the campus community, Vargas said.

“For many years, Rotary has supported our students with scholarships that have helped so many achieve their college dreams. Their dedication to education in Cape Girardeau is truly a hallmark of Rotary, and my hope is that this partnership will continue to blossom with scholarship support into the future,” Vargas said. “We also look forward to the launch in the near future of a student Rotaract Club on our campus, offering our students the opportunity to exchange ideas with community leaders and develop their leadership skills through service. Southeast Missouri State University appreciates Rotary’s longstanding commitment our institution.”

Photo Caption: From left, Jim Riley, founder of Red Letter Communications, business entrepreneur and community leader; Ross McFerron, attorney with Osburn, Hine, Yates and Murphy, LLC, and president of the Cape West Rotary Club; Dr. Debbie Below, vice president for enrollment management and student success at Southeast; Dr. Robert Gifford, Southeast professor emeritus of music and president of the Cape Girardeau Rotary Club; the Honorable Abbie Crites Leoni, U.S. Magistrate Judge, president of the Southeast Missouri State University Alumni Association and co-chair of the Cape Girardeau Rotary Centennial Celebration; Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of Southeast Missouri State University; Honorable Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., U.S. District Court Judge and co-chair of the Cape Girardeau Rotary Centennial Celebration; Mary Bennett, retired executive assistant at SoutheastHEALTH; John Niswonger, district sales manager at Colonial Life Ins. Co. and chair of the Rotary Club Tree Planting Program in Cape Girardeau; Dr. Trudy Lee, interim vice president for University Advancement and executive director of the Southeast Missouri University Foundation; Dr. Ken Heischmidt, professor of management and marketing at Southeast; Dr. Bill Eddleman, Southeast professor emeritus of biology and associate director of the State Historical Society of Missouri; Dr. Kevin Timlin, executive director of International Education and Services at Southeast; Doyle Privett, former Southeast Regent; Dr. Brooke DeArman, international student counselor with Southeast’s International Education and Services; Joe Niswonger, associate development manager at Colonial Life Ins. Co.