SWOCC Foundation members and students unveil Hiroshima Peace Tree

Southwestern celebrates Peace Tree planting

Elise Hamner For the Community, foundation, General News, homepage, News

Southwestern Oregon Community College has many trees on its Coos Bay campus. There are native firs, pines, maples, alders and a majestic coastal redwood.

There is one tree, however, that is unique. A Hiroshima Peace Tree.

“This tree symbolizes our college’s and our community’s long history of friendship and trade with people from around the world,” said Carolyn Thompson, of the SWOCC Foundation.

Thompson opened a dedication ceremony Oct. 1 with the foundation, college students and staff, and community members. Together, they marked the day the college officially joined with more than 30 other Oregon communities as having planted ginkgoes through the Hiroshima Peace Tree project. The small, leafy trees will grow to 40 feet tall or more. Bigger than that, the ginkgoes are symbols of peace grown from seeds of trees that survived the nuclear bombing in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.

Oregon Department of Forestry, in partnership with the Medford-based nonprofit One Sunny Day Initiatives, provided the ginkgoes as gifts to schools, parks and public places. Through this effort, Oregon has one of the largest collections of Hiroshima peace trees outside of Japan.

“It’s inspiring to me to have a tree planted here that to me symbolizes hope,” SWOCC President Patty Scott said. “People going to college are hopeful, and we are hopeful for their futures.”

60 years of forming friendships

This year, Southwestern is celebrating its 60th anniversary and over the decades, the college has been engaged in international work and exchange, according to Scott. International students come to Coos Bay to study, participate in athletics and live in the community. This year, 33 international students are living at the college. Several of those students, along with members of student government and a veteran student came to the event and helped unveil the tree.

While most people at the gathering were not alive during World War II, Scott said many people’s parents and ancestors were alive then and were impacted by the events. They may or may not have shared their stories.

“It happened. It’s important that we remember history so that we don’t repeat those things in the future,” Scott said. 

This tree, she said, is our reminder.

The Peace Tree Project grew from the efforts of Ashland resident Hideko Tamura Snider. Tamura Snider was born in Japan before the war. She remembers that sunny day in 1945. The day prior her mother had brought her home from an evacuation area in the hills, because she was sick. The next morning, a sunny morning, the 10-year-old’s world changed. She lost her mother in the bombing. Tamura Snider eventually moved to the United States, settling in Oregon.

In 2007, she founded One Sunny Day Initiatives to work toward nuclear non-proliferation through education. Today, the organization also has a mission to plant seeds of universal peace, hope and reconciliation, supported through a partnership with Green Legacy Hiroshima, which provided the tree seeds, according to One Sunny Day’s Estelle Voeller, who attended the dedication.  

Foundation creates study abroad scholarship

As part of the Peace Tree Project at the college, SWOCC Foundation has established a one-time scholarship fund to support study aboard opportunities for local college students.

“It is through international travel, trade and exchange that we make human connections,” Thompson said announcing the scholarships. “It’s how we develop an understanding of people across our globe, forming friendships and creating the way for peace.”

SWOCC Foundation began in 1962 to support students with scholarships. Over the years, it expanded its fundraising mission to include “friend-raising” to improve people’s lives socially, culturally, economically and educationally.

College instructor Cheryl Davies echoed Thompson’s thoughts. She joined in the tree ceremony is a long-time supporter and advocate for students studying abroad. She had the opportunity when she was younger and it gave her new perspectives into the lives of others.

“Many of the ways people lived were similar to mine and yet there would always be something I had never seen or done before. I also learned to think in a foreign language,” she said. “The experience left me with wanting to use my new-found language skills and travel to other countries. It really helps to make us ‘citizens of the world’.” 

To learn more about the Oregon’s Hiroshima Peace Trees, click here.

To learn more about the Southwestern Oregon Community College Foundation, click here.