“There are teachers who go the extra mile and Mary Hayes was one of them,” said Mercer County Community College alumna Helen Vizaniaris ’92, who attended a memorial tribute for her beloved late professor on May 10.
All these years later, Vizaniaris still recalls the nurturing and support she received from Hayes, from whom she took numerous computer classes on her way to her associate degree in Information Systems and a job with Hamilton Township.
Vizaniaris was among more than 50 staff and faculty members, family members, former students and friends who gathered for the official dedication of the Mary Hayes Tribute Garden on the college’s West Windsor campus. The garden includes a gazebo, walkway, paving and numerous plantings and was planned and installed by students in the MCCC Horticulture program over the past 18 months. It was made possible through a $35,000 multi-year donation by Hayes’ sister, Joan Silver.
Opening the ceremony was MCCC President Patricia C. Donohue, who noted that the garden is a place of peace that is already being used regularly by staff and students.
“Professor Hayes was an inspiring and encouraging instructor,” Donohue said. “She was well known as helpful and patient with her students and her colleagues. She remains an important member of the Mercer family.”
Hayes taught Mathematics and Computer Science at MCCC from 1980 to 2006.
Donohue observed that a garden tribute is an especially fitting memorial for Hayes, who was a master gardener who “could coax things to bloom year-round.”
Ornamental Horticulture Program Coordinator Amy Ricco described the back story of the project and the valuable learning opportunity and team work it afforded her students. She explained that students in Basic Landscaping and Planning II, under instructor Carrie Stanker, submitted the initial designs and Ms. Silver chose among the top three, pulling elements from two different designs for the final plan. Students studying Landscape Construction, taught by Kevin Minton, took over from there this past fall.
“It was a two-hour class that met from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.,” Ricco said. “But students would often arrive by 8 a.m. and stay through lunchtime.”
She noted that their commitment to the project extended even beyond the end of the semester.
“They were finishing up the gazebo and paving in December – in the snow – the day after grades were due,” Ricco said.
Then they returned in April to do the planting. According to Ricco, the final touches are still to come. Her students will add plantings to screen the utilities and parking lot, and plant seed to re-establish the lawn around the gazebo.
Ricco thanked alumnus Timothy Serinese ’ 99 (A.S., Plant Science), of Timothy’s Center for Gardening in Robbinsville for providing advice on paving materials and pricing, and furnishing the materials at a discount.
Chris Avani and student Colin Pritchard, of Shemin Nursery in Lawrenceville, helped with the selections of shrubs and flowering plants. Avani also taught the students how to install lighting in the garden, returning to campus at least three times.
Mathematics Professor Art Schwartz, a long-time colleague of Hayes, represented the faculty at the ceremony as he recalled Hayes’ impact at Mercer.
“I knew her over 30 years from when she first came to Mercer,” he said. “She taught a range of courses from basic algebra to trigonometry to discreet math, as well as computer science. She taught critical and analytic thinking and responsibility. Her students loved her. They were better off because they knew her.”
He recalled her generous, loving spirit by noting her practice of bringing in birthday cakes for her colleagues.
“We would measure our worth by the size of the cake she brought in,” he said. “This is a wonderful tribute to an outstanding colleague, teacher and friend. She changed the lives of many of her colleagues and thousands of students. We will never forget you.”