An Albion Family Tree With Special Roots

A piece of the U.P. will continue to have a special place on the quad

March 9, 2017

Two people standing next to a felled tree.

Siblings Joey Reynolds and Mary Nash, part of the College grounds staff, stand alongside the tree originally planted by their grandfather, John Reynolds, ’39, when he was an Albion student. The Austrian pine, beset by disease, was cut down March 6; a new tree from the family’s Upper Peninsula property will be planted during the spring.

By Chuck Carlson

In 1936, homesick for his native Upper Peninsula, sophomore John Reynolds decided to bring a little of the UP back to Albion College with him.

That year, with approval from College officials, Reynolds brought to Albion an Austrian pine tree from his home in Gladstone and planted it in the quad to join other pines in a grove that dominated the middle of the campus in those days.

On March 6, 81 years later, Joey Reynolds and Mary Nash stood over the fallen tree, which time and disease had all but killed, and thought of the grandfather they had never known but who they nonetheless knew all about.

Even though they hadn’t met the man who died in 1968 at the age of 53, they knew what he’d left behind and, as members of the Albion College grounds crew that cut down the 25-foot tree, they knew what it meant to both their family as well as the Albion community.

“Kind of bittersweet,” said Mary.

A pine tree.

The Reynolds pine, pictured in February, stood for 81 years.

John Reynolds had been one of 11 students from the UP who had been able to attend Albion in 1935 in what was then something more than a simple journey. Of those 11, only Reynolds graduated, earning his history degree in 1939. He had also been a member of the football team, the Forum Club and was in a fraternity.

During his sophomore year, he brought a sapling back from his home and, with no fanfare, planted it halfway down the quad, across from Stockwell Library, an enduring symbol of where he grew up.

“I think he wanted to bring a piece of home with him,” said Joey, holding a chainsaw that brought the tree down. “[The UP students] wanted to smell a piece of the UP.”

And there it grew, through violent windstorms and brutal winters and years of graduations.

It was there, too, when John met Gaetana Magnotta, an Albion native, who had graduated in 1937 with a degree in science.

They married in 1941, and each began careers in teaching, before new careers and responsibilities brought them back to Albion. They eventually settled on Porter Street, where the Mae Harrison Karro Residential Village (known to all as “The Mae”) now resides.

There, the couple opened the Snack Shop, which originally was located on Cass Street before moving down to its current spot at 201 Perry St. In the old days, the shop stayed open late to cater to late-shift factory workers who were looking to eat after a long day.

They also raised 10 children—John Jr., Fred, Tana, Ann, Joe, Mike, Frank, Mary, Becky and Paul. Three of the children—John, Joe (Mary and Joey’s dad) and Frank—were on hand to see the tree come down.

Two old headshots side by side.

Gaetana Magnotta, ’37, and John Reynolds, ’39, from the Albionian.

But there were no tears or second thoughts because a new pine tree, which will be brought down in the next month or so from the family cabin in Rapid River, in the Upper Peninsula, will be planted in its place. And a plaque honoring John and Gaetana will be placed in front of it.

The old tree will be turned into board planks for use in projects around campus. But a portion will be carved into coasters (with their grandfather’s face on it) as a gift for the 29 grandchildren.

“The interesting thing to me was how nature has always permeated our family,” said John Jr. “There’s a legacy to this.”