Behrend Roots Run Deep

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager

Penn State Behrend

walnut tree planting - h.c. (11)
Kevin Engle, grounds and landscape supervisor at Behrend, and H. Richard Obermanns.


If you’ve walked past the Otto Behrend Science Building recently, you may have noticed a new black walnut sapling out front. The four-foot tree has an interesting connection to Behrend and the building it will one day shade.

It was grown by H. Richard Obermanns at his home in Cleveland from nuts shed by a tree on the grounds of the former Hammermill plant in Erie, which was owned by Otto and his brother, Ernst Behrend. 

“The nuts came from a tree (now gone) that was located in the residential area of Hammermill Paper Company where the Behrend family and senior mill managers had homes in the first part of the twentieth century,” Obermanns said. “Given what I understand of his interest in horticulture, I think it is quite likely Ernst Behrend had a role in selecting and perhaps planting the parent tree.”

Obermanns’ grandfather worked for the Behrends at their original Hammermühle paper plant in a what was then a German state known as Prussia. He came to the United States to work at the Behrends’ Erie plant. Obermanns’ father subsequently worked at Hammermill, and he was also employed at the plant as a teenager.

This fall, Obermanns was on campus to speak at a 150th birthday celebration for Otto Behrend at Lilley Library. In his remarks, he pointed out that Ernst and Otto started what became a Fortune 500 company when they were only slightly older than the Behrend students who were gathered for the event.

While Ernst’s wife, Mary Behrend, would go on to donate the family’s Glenhill property to Penn State in 1948 to establish Penn State Behrend, Otto would bequeath his country property in western Millcreek Township to the Millcreek School District. The district used the land to create Asbury Woods, a 216-acre regional nature center that features five miles of hiking trails and an education center.  

It’s clear from Otto’s and Ernst’s residences that trees were important to them – not only professionally, in the manufacturing of paper, but personally, as well – as evidenced by the extensive collection of trees with which they surrounded their homes.

Ernst and Mary were known to bring home trees as “souvenirs” of their world travels, and its why Penn State Behrend, which is recognized as an arboretum by the American Public Gardens Association, has such a unique array of trees on campus.

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