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