Campus Trees, From Old Limbs to New

Sister Joan O’Shea was among those saddened when Dominican University cut down a stand of trees this year to make way for a new academic building. The university softened the blow by putting the wood to good use: firewood for the neighbors, benches for the campus, and crosses — handcrafted by a psychology professor — for classrooms in the new building. But most unusual were the items created by Richard Marrell.

Mr. Marrell’s company, RLM Tissue Bank Prosthetics, makes prosthetics for the bodies of people who donate bones when they die. The devices make the bodies easier to handle and enable families to hold open-casket services. Most important to Mr. Marrell, a surgical technician turned entrepreneur, they are environmentally friendly. Their plastic precursors damaged crematories and were not biodegradable.

Mr. Marrell was delighted when Dominican offered him the wood. “I like the idea of reusing or recycling anything we can find,” he says. Using earth-friendly practices, he says, is “the ultimate form of respect” for the dead.

The Dominican nuns moved to their verdant campus near Chicago from rural Wisconsin in 1922. Then, it was called Rosary College. “We wanted our students not only to receive an excellent academic education, but to grow in a love of natural beauty and serenity,” says Sister Joan, an alumna and retired professor who still lives there. “If the use of that wood can bring a different kind of peace to some families, it’s a good use.”

The reuse of the material — which some at Dominican were calling “ashes to ashes” because ash trees were among those felled — may be the most literal collegiate branding campaign ever: Mr. Marrell plans to burn Dominican’s insignia into the prosthetics before shipping them out. —Kate Moser

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