The legend of the shoe tree

When will you embark on the tradition, and what will your parting message be?

Each year seniors commemorate their graduation by knotting the laces of a worn pair of sneakers and lofting them high into the branches of a campus landmark, the Shoe Tree. The origins of this custom remain a mystery. No one knows who started it but everyone has a tale to tell about it.

One story suggests it all began in 1989. Supposedly, a student walking back from playing intramural basketball threw another student’s shoes in a tree, beginning the tradition. Another story has it that an angry student threw his roommate’s shoes in the tree after an argument. Stories are changed and embellished each year but the tradition remains constant; graduating seniors toss their “soles” high into the oak- often with parting messages on them.
“Keep swinging,” wrote Mike Vuola, history major, class of ’02.
“I made it!” wrote Nicki Enz, class of 2001.

One frightful night the Shoe Tree fell, and everyone felt its thump. A summer thunderstorm claimed the campus landmark on July, 30, 2002 with winds gusting nearly 50 mph. The beloved and mighty oak toppled in the storm but students refused to let the longstanding tradition die.
Katie Johnson, former Director of the Ecumenical Center, called the Shoe Tree an important symbol. “The Shoe Tree represents success. You get to throw your shoes up in its branches and leave a part of your soul at UWGB as you embark on the next part of your life.”

On October 11, 2002 a rededication ceremony occurred with the naming of the new Shoe Tree. It is now located in-between the Ecumenical Center and the Kress Events Center. The new location is convenient for the “Bless My Sole” event hosted each year by the Ecumenical center. The event allows alumni, campus guests, and students to participate in what has now become a rite of passage.
When will you embark on the tradition, and what will your parting message be?

-Mary Simonsen

Leave a Reply