If there is one thing we know about Mary Welch, it is that she loves her father.
Her father, Joel Hallman Radcliffe, a graduate of the Great Class of ’39, studied engineering at Clemson and would go on to serve as a much-admired officer in World War II. A man of uncompromising character, Joel was part of a class of men known for both their courage and charitable nature. Most of the class would serve in World War II, 26 of whom would be killed in action. On their return from combat, the brotherhood would stay together, giving back to Clemson every step of the way. Their major gift was the Natural Heritage Garden, a part of the South Carolina Botanical Gardens, and included the ’39 Bell Tower in the Carillon Gardens as well as the Class of 1939 Award for Excellence – which is awarded each year to the faculty member whose outstanding contributions for a five-year period have been judged by his/her peers to represent the highest achievement of service to the student body, university, community, and state or nation.
Her father’s tangible passion for Clemson resonated in Mary, who grew up watching Clemson football games right by his side. Mary is a 1965 graduate of Furman University with no personal experience with Clemson. But she came to know Clemson vicariously through her father, which inspired her to give simply and totally in honor of him.
Mary has created The Joel Hallman Radcliffe ’39 and Mary Radcliffe Welch HA ’39 Heritage Gardens Endowment to provide unrestricted support for the preservation, maintenance and improvement of the Natural Heritage Garden in the South Carolina Botanical Gardens at Clemson University. Mary’s gift will help sustain these gardens, forever memorializing her father’s class in the year-round beauty of the flowers and shrubbery.
This was, after all, his favorite philanthropic effort.
Joel’s philanthropic spirit was widespread throughout his life, culminating toward the end of his life in multiple mailings from different organizations to which he had given in the past. One day, with Mary in the room with him, he said he wanted to stop the mail from all of his other organizations except two: the Heritage Gardens and his church.
Most central to the Heritage Gardens is the Red Caboose. Arranged in the 1970s by a member of the Class of ’39 as an addition to the horticultural grounds, the Caboose now stands as the centerpiece to the work of the Class of ’39. Their treasured memorial is one that will now run into eternity.
Today, the spirit of Clemson, which characterized so much of Joel’s life, lives on through Mary’s gift to Clemson, through the gardens and through the beautiful campus that houses equally passionate students. One can only hope that this generation of Clemson students will one day embody what Tee L. Senn, a former president for the class of ’39, quotes of Tom Brokaw, author of The Greatest Generation, “They gave the world new science, literature, art, industry, and economic strength unparalleled in the long curve of history. As they now reach the twilight of their adventurous and productive lives, they remain, for the most part, exceptionally modest.”
The Class of ’39 Natural Heritage Garden offers us an important lesson about Clemson. The flowers may wilt, the leaves may brown, the cold may once again come, but a love of Clemson runs through every season – and every generation.