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‘The Christmas Tree’ Good Deed Puts Campus in Holiday Spirit

December 16, 2011

In the lobby of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's Hadley Hall, lights twinkle on a Christmas tree decorated in school colors.  It's a festive addition to the space, but thanks to Mary Greer, it's more than just something pretty to look at during the season.  This is the affectionately known as "The Cookie Tree."

Cookie Tree       
Popular Holiday Hangout: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology students pick up cookies and other treats each day at "The Cookie Tree" in the lobby of Hadley Hall.  

Greer, the morning switchboard operator, has been baking treats and leaving them under the tree for students for the past nine years.  Sugar cookies, gingerbread men, snack cakes, popcorn balls, and other treats are handmade, individually bagged, and piled in baskets and on trays for about a week each December.

The tradition has roots that go back, Greer explains, to when she started working at the college 11 years ago. 

"We had a little 'Charlie Brown Christmas' tree and I told (former President Samuel) Hulbert that we needed something better for Hadley Hall.  He asked what we needed and I told him 'tall enough to reach the ceiling'.  In four hours, the tree appeared," she says.

The new and improved Christmas tree in place, Greer adds, "I sat here and I thought, 'What am I going to put under that tree?'"  First, she began by making decorations for the tree.  Then, she thought of all the students who pass by the tree each day.  She decided to bake goodies enough for every student to have at least one homemade treat.

Using her grandmother's recipe, Greer bakes sugar cookies and ices each one.  "I keep a day ahead because the icing has to set before you slide them in the bag," she explains.   She creates "not only cookies, but I make little snack cakes and gingerbread men."  This year, she also included a couple of different snack mixes.

Making cookies for nearly 2,000 students may seem like a daunting task, but Greer says she has developed a system over the years.  "I start in August.   I make the dough, put it in portions and freeze it."  Then, once the tree is up in Hadley Hall, she begins the process of preparing for the cookie arrival.   She first places wrapped boxes beneath the tree so that she has something to set the trays and baskets upon.

Students wait anxiously for the arrival of each day's cookie supply.  "Before they appear, people walk past the tree, and they're looking," Greer says.  Much to the students' delight, the cookies can soon be found under the tree, all individually bagged and tied with a festive piece of ribbon.  Each day, Greer refills the tree with about 500 cookies and snacks.

From her perch at the reception desk near the tree, Greer has the pleasure of seeing the reactions and enjoyment of students and staff as they choose from the variety of treats. 

Her joy obvious, Greer smiles as she relates tales of students and the cookie tree.  "I can be working and I'll hear the big guys say, 'These are the bomb!' or you should try that stuff with the M&Ms in it!'"

Greer gives each snowman cookie a unique face, and she tells a story of a student who sat down next to the tree to examine the different faces on the cookies. "She said, 'This looks like my lab partner -- you think I should give it to him?'", Greer chuckles.  "I said, 'Well, honey, I don't know your lab partner.'"

Many students never realize that Greer is the force behind The Cookie Tree, but those who do will often leave her little notes.  She pulls one such note from her desk drawer to share.  It reads in part: "I just wanted to thank you for your generosity.  You give hope for the season and give Christmas its good name."

It is those notes that motivate Greer each year.

As she's speaking, a pair of facilities staff members stops to snag a sweet snack on their way through the building. "Very delicious," one comments to Greer as he devours the gingerbread man.

"Well, I'm glad you enjoyed that cookie," says Greer, smiling warmly.  "I'm glad you stopped by!"