Mary Lou Jennings’s life-long love of birds and trees began as a child on a nature walk in sixth grade. In fact, she was so enamored with birds -- specifically the Blue Jay -- that she joined the Audubon Society at age 12. Her fascination and dedication to nature deepened over the years, leading her to learn more about trees. “Trees and birds go together,” she explains.
She started thinking about the idea of giving residents a new tree when one had to be taken down or lost due to a storm or disease. That was twenty years ago – since that time, Mary Lou has dedicated her life to the care and planting of trees in her hometown of Lansdowne, PA, and to the PHS Tree Tenders program.
“Mary Lou was in one of the very first Tree Tenders classes in the 90s,” says Mindy Maslin, PHS Program Manager. “She was an inspiration for many reasons, one being that she had us think past the city’s boundaries and led us to envision Tree Tenders groups in the counties.”
Mary Lou was instrumental in the development of Lansdowne’s Tree Advisory Board, and helped write the ordinance to create a Shade Tree Commission for the Borough, which she has chaired for many years. She also stewarded Lansdowne through the process of getting a Tree City designation from the Arbor Day Foundation. Every Arbor Day, the town celebrates at a 350-year-old Sycamore tree that was growing when William Penn came to this area.
She proudly recalls one of her largest accomplishments in the Borough – a planting in 2005 of 75 street trees along a barren stretch of Lansdowne Avenue. At the time, she sought out volunteers to help plant them and was thrilled with a turnout of almost 50 people on a 22-degree day. Now 91 years old, Mary Lou enjoys being driven down the avenue to check on “her” trees.
As the mother of eleven children, Mary Lou was always an active volunteer at their schools. While she loved working with children, her greatest gratification has come from planting trees. “Over the past 20 years, we’ve probably planted 500 or more trees in our town,” she says. “It’s a great privilege when I’m being driven down the street and spot one we’ve planted – it’s quite a legacy.”
She is quick to note that “Every tree is a favorite tree of mine. I enjoy them all for various reasons.” One of her most favorites however is the Eastern Redbud. “Even before leaves appear, the little purple flowers come out on the branches – it’s a harbinger of spring.”
She is currently preparing for the upcoming November Tree Tenders tree distribution and planting. Each fall and spring she matches residents who would like a tree with the right tree. “We go out and look at their space and decide which tree will work best for them. She then selects her 15 trees from the PHS list of available trees. When planting week arrives, the borough lends her a driver and a truck to pick up their 15 bare root trees from PHS. “We deliver the trees, along with information packets on tree care. I try to educate people about trees, and how important they are in relation to fighting climate change,” says Mary Lou.
As a PHS Tree Tender and guardian of trees in Lansdowne, Mary Lou is proud of the impact she has had on the landscape. “I hope that I’m leaving a legacy of respect for the environment and instilling a love of trees and birds in future generations.”