Taze Leonard “Tee” Senn ’39

by Don McKale
Tee Senn, a graduate of “The Great Class of ’39,” gave a lifetime of dedication and service to the class, Clemson University, and the study of horticulture. Almost singlehandedly, Tee founded and helped to develop much of what is today the South Carolina Botanical Garden. During 1959, in his role as the new head of then Clemson College’s horticulture department, Tee secured 44 acres of college land on Perimeter Road for a camellia grove and trial gardens. By 1973 the scenic Clemson Horticulture Gardens had grown into a 76-acre public site, with gardens that included azaleas, wildflowers, bog, research areas, duck pond, and a special first-in-the-nation hortitherapy garden. Also a bright red caboose sat at the front of the gardens, thanks largely to the campaign of Tee’s wife, Marguerite “Reet” Senn, to secure the rail car from Southern Railway as a gift to the gardens.
At Tee’s urging, the Class of ’39 adopted the gardens as one of the class’s signature projects. In 1981 the class approved at its reunion two resolutions honoring Tee, one providing monies from the class treasury to support a university fund named for him to provide scholarships for horticulture students.
Today the caboose and surrounding Caboose Garden serve as special memorials to the Class of ’39. Located on the original 44-acre tract, they form a key part of the class-sponsored and funded Heritage Gardens at the main entrance to the present 295-acre S.C. Botanical Garden. The garden remains one of the university’s most popular attractions, drawing an estimated 80,000 visitors annually, many of them children. In 1991 the university honored Tee by naming the garden’s original tract of land “The T.L. Senn Horticultural Gardens.”

Tee served the Class of ’39 as its secretary-treasurer from 1959 to 1981 and its permanent president thereafter. He was a member of the class’s Golden Anniversary Endowment Fund Committee and Caboose Garden Committee. He played a major role in the class’s establishing and funding of other projects for the university, especially undergraduate scholarships and the Faculty Award for Excellence. The award recognizes, together with the Faculty Senate, the outstanding contributions of a Clemson professor each year, with the recipient becoming an honorary member of the “Great Class.” In 1994, the university again honored Tee, this time presenting him with the Clemson Medallion, the school’s highest public award.

Tee Senn graduated with a B.S. degree in horticulture. While a student at Clemson, he was a member of Alpha Zeta, the honor agricultural fraternity, and Tiger Brotherhood, and served as president of the Horticulture Club. During World War II he served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific theater. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he taught at Clemson College. In 1950 and 1958 respectively, he earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in horticulture from the University of Maryland. For work on the Ph.D., Tee received a national Danforth Teaching Fellowship, the first student in agriculture awarded the prestigious grant. Returning to Clemson in 1958, he served as head of the horticulture department until his retirement in 1981. Also during his career, he traveled the world teaching and doing research on the use of seaweed to enhance plant growth, a subject on which he built an international reputation.
“The best is good enough,” Tee liked to say about the Class of ’39. And about Tee, the same could be said of him. He loved people and they loved him. Of the many fun Friday evenings he hosted during class reunions at his home on Lake Hartwell, what he called Tee Reet’s Retreat, an invitation said it all: “Swimming, boating, and kegs of suds. Special sampling of exotic hors d’ouvres. Special aromatic elixirs.”
Deeply religious, Tee was grateful for all his blessings—his family, career, and many classmates and friends. One of his former students described him as “a visionary with big ideas. The evidence is all around the Clemson campus and extends far beyond through his students and their students. Clemson College produced its own greatest generation, and Tee Senn was one of its proudest members.” Said another of his students, “Tee was amazing! A gift to the world!”