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A resilient Elon acorn

Tom Spain P’02 has seen his daughter thrive along with the Elon acorn he planted at home 19 years ago.

Susan Spain P’02, Betsy Spain Barbao ’02 & Tom Spain P’02, who managed to grow an oak tree in his home in Gainesville, Florida, from an acorn he picked while visiting Elon in 1998.

By Katie DeGraff

He didn’t think much of it at the time. As Tom Spain toured Elon’s campus in the spring of 1998, he scooped up several acorns and put them in his pocket.

Tom and his wife, Susan, were accompanying their daughter, Betsy, as she searched for her ideal college.

In 2013 the Spains built a new house, and decided to try to move the tree.

Back home in Gainesville, Florida, Tom planted the acorns in pots. The chances of an oak tree thriving in the humid Florida climate weren’t great, but he figured it was worth a shot. Meanwhile his daughter made her college selection. Even though the trip had taken her family to nearly 15 colleges, Betsy decided Elon was the only school for her. She says it only took 10 minutes of being on campus for her to fully commit to the university. “There was just something about Elon’s personality that was so apparent—the energy, the focus on students—it was something I felt in all of the conversations I had during my visit,” she says. 

She applied early, was accepted, enrolled and arrived at Elon in fall 1998. She moved into Staley Hall and was happily surprised at how easy it was to acclimate to life away from home. Her parents were also pleased with Betsy’s choice and stayed in regular contact with their daughter. Back in Gainesville, against the odds, one of the acorns sprouted. Tom nurtured it into a sapling, moving it into larger pots and finally, after five years, into the ground. During the course of 15 years, the tree continued to thrive and grew 20 feet tall.

In 2013 the Spains built a new house, and decided to try to move the tree, even though the arborist Tom consulted thought it had little chance of survival. The tree was moved in the winter, and the Spains waited anxiously to see if it would leaf out in the spring.

After much delay, it did. 

Susan Spain, Betsy Spain Barbao ’02 & Tom Spain at Betsy’s graduation.

As the tree continued to grow, Betsy grew her own Elon legacy. In 2002 she graduated with a business administration degree, rounded out with concentrations in marketing and management information systems. The relationships she built during those four years have endured.

‚Äč“Elon is where I became the person I wanted to be; it’s where I met the friends I’d always wanted to make,” she says. The people she met were driven, open-minded and helped propel her to success. Betsy has spent her career in digital advertising, and now lives in Atlanta, where she’s a program manager for Razorfish, an international advertising firm. She met some of her very best friends at Elon and is still in regular contact with a few of her most influential professors. 

The Spains’ Elon oak today

And the tree? It’s doing just as well. It’s grown another five feet since it was replanted in 2013. This spring marks 19 years since the acorn first sprouted. “I walk by that tree every day on my way to get the mail,” Tom says. “We loved our time as Elon parents and Betsy loved her time as an Elon student. Seeing that tree is a pleasant reminder of a place that’s very dear to us.”

Keren Rivas,
5/5/2017 4:20 PM