On Saturday, August 1, John Donovan ’80 knelt beside an unplanted pin oak sapling, placing a sheet of inscribed paper at the plant’s base before pouring a shovel of dirt into the hole. He was among 20 or so alums who gathered during this year’s Alumni Weekend to pay tribute to the late Sally Coulter Brooks, a member of the Class of 1980 who tragically passed away in 2014 after a brief but courageous battle with cancer. To honor Sally’s memory, Donovan, along with fellow classmates Mary Naples ’80 and Frank Daggett ’80, organized a tree planting ceremony on Saint Joseph’s Standish campus.
While one might assume that Donovan and Brooks were bosom buddies during their college years, in fact, their friendship didn’t truly develop until almost three decades later.
“Sally was a classmate of mine, but we were never particularly close and we didn’t stay in touch after graduation,” recalls Donovan. “However, at the time of our 30th reunion, Mary Naples created a Facebook page for our class that leads to a gigantic success of a reunion. Staying in the new dorms on campus, we re-bonded—or, in some cases, forged new relationships.
“Sally was one of those people I reconnected with at our 30th. She was so giving, so helpful in making us all feel welcome that reunion weekend… When I heard the news that she had passed away, I felt compelled to do something, and thought, what better way than by planting a tree at the College where she established such strong ties.”
Naples, who was Brooks’ roommate sophomore year, confirms that Brooks’ affable nature was just as much a defining characteristic during her time as a Saint Joseph’s student.
“Sally was a special classmate to all of us,” says Naples. “She had an ever-ready smile and a contagious giggle. She was a friend to everyone and was really a calming presence.”
After graduating in 1980 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Brooks worked as an ER nurse at A.R. Gould Memorial Hospital in Presque Isle, Maine; as a Community Health Nurse in York County, Maine; and as a Child Psychiatric nurse at Jackson Brook Institute in South Portland, Maine, and at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine. Then, in 1990, Sally received her Elementary Teacher Certificate, followed by her Master of Science in Education in 1994, both from the University of Southern Maine. She taught at Harpswell Community School for 23 years as a first and second-grade teacher. Her friends and loved ones often speak of her affinity for education and learning.
Six weeks before Alumni Weekend, Donovan still hadn’t decided on the perfect tree for the ceremony. Then, one day while visiting a local supply store, he claims one “just called to him.” He bought it on the spot, not knowing that it was a type of oak—a favorite of Brooks’, who used to do acorn crafting with her students. Donovan says, “The tree was a match made in heaven.”
At the ceremony, Daggett, director of the Mercy Center, gave the memorial spiritual direction and helped orchestrate the music into the service. As a group, they sang “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace,” the song played at Brooks and Naples’ capping ceremony and performed at Brooks’ service. To conclude the ceremony, each member of the crowd—a mixture of former classmates, College leadership, and Sisters of Mercy—joined Donovan in placing a piece of paper containing a prayer or kind words beneath the tree and took turns shoveling dirt on top to complete its planting.
“It was a symbol of everyone’s individual participation in this collective moment,” says Donovan. “As the tree grows, the paper will dissolve into the roots and become part of [Brooks’] legacy.”
The sapling, only a few feet high now, will eventually reach almost 75 feet. With this in mind, the Facilities team at Saint Joseph’s carefully planned its placement, situating the tree alongside the new fire pit where it will shade future generations of students as it continues to grow.
The Saint Joseph’s tree planting ceremony is just the latest in a long string of kind gestures, prayers, and donations that have been made to honor Brooks’ memory in the months since her death.
“I think just the trickling of good works that stem from her life is so important to acknowledge,” says Naples. “To know her is to smile because that is what we all remember most: Her smile.”
Special tributes and memorials on campus are a tremendous way to remember classmates, faculty, and staff who have had an impact on the SJC community. For more information, contact the Office of Alumni Relations at 207-893-7890 or email@example.com.