Though she’s more than a 100 years old, Julia Hawkins is still going strong.
Baton Rouge residents came together on Feb. 9 to celebrate Julia Hawkins’ 103rd birthday with cake and cherry trees.
Held at the LSU Hilltop Arboretum from 9 a.m. to noon, The Julia Hawkins 103 Cherry Tree Birthday Jubilee had 103 Taiwan Cherry Tree saplings for sale. The guest of honor had pink flowers tucked behind her ear and a scarf with cherry tree patterns on it. It was just another part of her long legacy of spreading cherry trees.
In the 1960s, Hawkins worked with Bill Burbank and a local nurseryman to plant thousands of cherry trees across Baton Rouge, working with the University South Civic Association to get them in as many areas as possible, including neighborhoods, school areas and parks.
“I was young and vigorous and loved flowers and plants and had the time and the interest,” Hawkins said. “So we had this drive at that time, and we got hundreds planted.”
Hawkins has also worked with the LSU Hilltop Arboretum since it was created, volunteering and supporting it. Her husband, University professor Buddy Hawkins, was the first president of the LSU Hilltop Arboretum Board of Directors. On Arbor Day 1967, Julia Hawkins received an award for her cherry tree and planting work from the City Beautification Committee.
“We didn’t just do cherries that year but Dogwood, Craig Myrtle and Redbud and Japanese Magnolia,” Julia Hawkins said. “All kinds of things that bloomed in the spring. We offered all of that and we would go out and plant them with the nurseryman.”
Since the trees don’t have a long lifespan, the trees planted around 50 years ago are dying off. Remembering this project, Julia’s children decided to organize The Julia Hawkins 103 Cherry Tree Birthday Jubilee in an effort to revitalize Taiwan Cherry Trees in Baton Rouge. Besides the saplings for sale, attendees could donate to the Arboretum’s “Julia Hawkins Beautification Project.”
Proceeds from this project will go toward planting more plants at the Hilltop Arboretum and along Highland Road. Peggy Coates, executive director of Hilltop Arboretum, said that Hawkins and her husband have been essential to the Arboretum since its beginning.
“Julia is just one of those very special people, and her husband as well, that if they would not have been involved in the arboretum, I don’t think we’d be where we are today,” Coates said. “So they’re really really important and wonderful people.”
At the party, Julia Hawkins talked with friends, family and supporters of the project. One Baton Rouge couple stopped by to thank her and buy a tree for their lawn. Many of them talked about her huge influence on the Baton Rouge community and their approval of the project.
“I’m happy she’s celebrating her 103rd birthday with us,” Coates said. “And she’s getting these trees in the ground. What a lovely thing she wanted for her birthday.”