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‘All in the golden afternoon’ at the 2010 Arb Gala

It’s not unusual for guests at the JC Raulston Arboretum’s annual Gala in the Garden to feel they’ve been transported to an enchanted world of botanical beauty. But this year, N.C. State’s nationally renowned gardens gave the gala visitors an adventure in the kaleidoscopically colorful world created by Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.

“Gala in Wonderland” was the theme of the May 2 fundraising event at the JCRA. And it was a day so bright and balmy and busy that it was worthy of Carroll’s “golden afternoon” description of the 1862 excursion that inspired his Alice stories. Costumed players portraying Alice, Mad Hatter, White Rabbit, Queen of Hearts and the White Queen mingled among guests, who also were delighted by the themed décor, including life-size illustration reproductions of such Wonderland and Looking-Glass denizens as the hookah-smoking Caterpillar and Tweedledee and Tweedledum. The grassy paths winding through the arb’s gardens took on the whimsical ambiance: One almost expected a Cheshire Cat to appear in a tree in the Winter Garden or to hear the clinking of teacups from the Mad Hatter and March Hare pouring in the White Garden gazebo.

When not enjoying all the through-the rabbit-hole touches – including an opportunity to put faces in cutouts and pose as Wonderland characters – guests enjoyed gourmet  food and browsed silent auction tents where everything from plants and trees to objets d’art to jewelry to wine to Wolfpack memorabilia were available for bid. Those tents also offered a shady respite from the unseasonable mid-90s temperatures.

In the evening guests attended a reception and program at the arboretum’s McSwain Education Center, where the center’s namesake and benefactor, Ms. Ruby McSwain, was among those enjoying an array of desserts, including N.C. State ice cream. Dr. Johnny Wynne, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, opened the program by thanking the “many dedicated volunteers whose efforts made the gala a truly wonderland experience…. We are very fortunate to have many devoted and talented donors and friends who give of their time and energy. And the 2010 Gala event chair, Sylvia Redwine, is a perfect example of this kind of friend. She is a woman who can do it all and gives her all to the arboretum.”

Wynne then introduced Dr. Randy Woodson, new chancellor of N.C. State University, and his wife, Susan, attending their first arb gala. Noting Woodson’s background in university administration, agriculture and horticultural sciences – he holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in horticulture and plant physiology – Wynne said, “Chancellor Woodson has a unique perspective on the tripartite mission that we serve at N.C. State.”

Taking the podium, Woodson quipped that he realized what was meant when he was told it was a “business-casual” gala — that “95-degree weather in North Carolina means don’t wear a suit and tie!”

Woodson said he particularly enjoyed the event because “my background is horticultural science, in fact, ornamental horticulture.” He then revealed that he had visited the arboretum in December 2009, and at that time, he told his wife, “I’ve got to take you to see one of the best university arboreta in the country.”

The 10.5-acre JC Raulston Arboretum has one of the largest and most diverse collections of landscape plants adapted for landscape use in the Southeast. Plant collections include more than 5,000 total species and/or cultivars of annuals, perennials, bulbs, vines, groundcovers, shrubs and trees from more than 50 different countries. Maintained by N.C. State students, faculty, volunteers and staff members, the Arboretum is named in honor of its late director, Dr. J. C. Raulston, who founded it in 1976.

“I know what a university arboretum means to the university and the community,” Woodson said. “It is an honor to be with you today and be a part of this great university and this very special arboretum.”

Woodson introduced the gala’s honorary co-chairs, Jerry Jackson, an N.C. State textiles alumnus, and Nina Jackson, an artist. The Jacksons are longtime supporters of the arboretum and the Arts N.C. State program, as well as leading benefactors of the renovation of Frank Thompson Hall. Jerry is also an officer on the JCRA board of advisers.

Jerry Jackson, wearing an authentic looking Mad Hatter top hat, thanked all those “who have given their support to the arboretum and this very important fund-raising event” and called that support “critical to the arboretum’s success and legacy for the future.”

Woodson and Wynne presented the Jacksons and Redwine (in absentia) each a Lasting Impressions miniature trough garden.

Dr. Ted Bilderback, JCRA director, then paid tribute to some special support of the arboretum, including the gifts of CALS horticulture alumni Mitzi Hole and Michael Stallings in support of the arb’s new Lath House, the plan of which was donated by designer Frank Harmon; and the Charles T. Larus will bequest that donated $279,000 to create the Charles T. and Ethel T. Larus Endowment for the JC Raulston Arboretum and $126,000 to be used for arboretum Master Plan areas under construction.

He then noted the April 23 passing of Dr. Donald Moreland, whose donation in memory of his late wife, Verdie Moreland, made possible the recent renovations in the arb’s Japanese Garden.

Moreland, a 43-year N.C. State plant physiologist specializing in weed control, and his wife also endowed a Caldwell Fellows Scholarship in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the N. C. State Alumni Association; established the Donald Moreland Endowed Graduate Fellowship to fund graduate education and research in the College of Natural Resources; and created facility, staff and book endowments in the university libraries, as well as a graduate fellowship in the College of Engineering.

“Of course, most recently, Dr. Moreland’s inspiration and generous support made it possible for the renovation of our own Japanese Garden that I hope you enjoyed today,” said Bilderback.  “Through his gift, the beautiful new stone paths now allow the garden to be handicapped accessible, giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy its tranquil beauty.  N.C. State University is indeed fortunate to have had such a valued faculty member, friend and supporter as Dr. Donald Moreland. We resoundingly thank him for his generosity and advocacy.  We will certainly miss seeing him stroll these gardens.”

Terri Leith

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