Christmas tree pioneer, OSU agronomist, remembers his ‘roots’ with $1 million gift

Hal Schudel

Hal Schudel, standing among some of the millions of trees on his Holiday Tree Farm in Benton County, recently pledged $1 million for scholarships at OSU. (photo: Karl Maasdam)

The man who changed the shape of the Christmas tree – and the entire Christmas tree industry – pledged $1 million for scholarships at Oregon State last week.

Hal Schudel, a former OSU agronomist and founder of Holiday Tree Farms of Benton County, the largest Christmas tree grower in the world, made the gift with his wife Lois.

Schudel popularized the lush, triangle-shaped, plantation-grown conifers that decorate many homes and offices throughout the country during the holiday season.

Despite the success of his business, however, Schudel has not forgotten how he got his start. A $500 scholarship during the Depression helped him achieve his bachelor’s degree at University of Nebraska. Later he received a fellowship at OSU, where he earned his doctorate.

The Schudels’ commitment, to help future students in the agricultural sciences, will help meet the $100 million goal of the university’s Scholarship Initiative. To date more than $72 million has been raised for student support.

“I know what scholarships did for me personally, and I know what challenges young people are facing today,” said Schudel. “There are some great kids out there, but they need to be given a little boost, so they, too, can follow their dreams.”

“We are very grateful to Hal and Lois. Their gift will help so many future students,” said Bill Boggess, interim dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. “This commitment has special meaning for our college because Hal is a graduate and a former faculty member. He has been so innovative in his career and incredibly generous with his success.”

After graduating from OSU in 1953, Schudel started a landscaping business but struggled to make ends meet during the winter. He taught for a few years at Oregon State, before deciding to start growing Christmas trees as a way to expand his business. When Schudel first started Holiday Tree Farms in 1955, most people cut down wild, sparsely-limbed conifers for Christmas trees, now commonly known as “Charlie Brown” trees.

Together with Paul Goodmonson, a former OSU Extension forester, Schudel pioneered a new business based on pruning and growing trees in rows like a crop on good, well-drained hill land farms in western Oregon. It took eight years to harvest the first trees, but the full-look of the pruned Christmas tree soon became wildly popular. The industry boomed, especially in Oregon, which is the top Christmas tree-producing state in the country.

Holiday Tree Farms, now operated by Schudel’s three sons, ships more than a million trees every year.

The Schudels’ pledge is part of The Campaign for OSU, the university’s first comprehensive fundraising effort. Guided by OSU’s strategic plan, the campaign seeks $625 million to provide opportunities for students, strengthen the Oregon economy and conduct research that changes the world. More than $453 million has been committed to date.

~ by Sara Zaske

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