Posted: February 23, 2022

Tom and Mary Jo Young pledged a $3.2 million estate gift to create the Woodland Gardens at The Arboretum at Penn State with a supporting endowment, as well as an undergraduate scholarship in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management.

It was the writings of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and others that shaped Penn State alumnus Tom Young’s life and his views of the importance of the natural world. Those views and the career of his wife, Mary Jo, as an educator have inspired them to pledge a $3.2 million estate gift to create the Woodland Gardens at The Arboretum at Penn State with a supporting endowment, as well as an undergraduate scholarship in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management.

The Thomas A. and Mary Jo Young Woodland Gardens in The Arboretum at Penn State, encompassing approximately seven acres, will provide a connection between the current H. O. Smith Botanic Gardens and the Arboretum’s Hartley Wood, an old growth white oak stand. In addition to enriching the visitor experience, it will also contribute opportunities for education and research.

The Thomas A. and Mary Jo Young Undergraduate Scholarship in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management will benefit full-time undergraduate students who are in their third or fourth year of study with demonstrated financial need.

“Tom and Mary Jo are such an incredible and thoughtful team. Their philanthropic spirit and interests lined up perfectly with the Arboretum’s plans for creating this critical garden-forest connection,” said Sanford Smith, interim director of The Arboretum at Penn State. “Along with adding this unique garden to the Arboretum, the scholarship they are establishing will assure that the future looks brighter for many students being educated and trained to manage, restore and conserve the natural world.”

For Tom, a 1976 Penn State graduate with a degree in forest science, and Mary Jo, a graduate of Fairmont State University, Johns Hopkins University and West Virginia University, supporting the Arboretum made sense for a few key reasons.

“This seemed like a perfect fit because of our backgrounds in education and the natural sciences,” said Tom, who had a long and successful career as a forester in both West Virginia and Maryland. “It will be a place for research for faculty and students, but also a great place for visitors to relax and enjoy nature. That’s important to me.”

Mary Jo, a retired teacher who spent the bulk of her career in elementary education, agreed. “I love the idea that it can be an outdoor classroom and that children can learn to appreciate the outdoors, among other lessons,” she said. “It will also provide an opportunity for all who visit to expand their knowledge of native and non-native tree species and shrubs.”

The Youngs give credit to Dr. Kim Steiner, retired director of the Arboretum, for developing the concept of the Woodland Gardens.

“The real dealmaker for us was working with Dr. Kim Steiner, founding director of the Arboretum, Development Director Patrick Williams and Director of Operations Shari Edelson,” said Tom. “They answered every question we had regarding this unique gift and made the process very smooth.”

“We were shown many places where we could contribute, but the Woodland Gardens was perfect for us,” added Mary Jo.

The Youngs’ undergraduate scholarship in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management not only aligned with their interests in supporting education and the natural sciences, but their desire to help those who need it most.

For the Youngs, providing philanthropic support to organizations is important because, in Tom’s words, “It’s an investment in the future.” With that in mind, they want to help as many people as they can.

“We’re helping a small group of people via a scholarship, but with the gift to the Arboretum we are helping possibly thousands of people enjoy nature,” he continued. “That will touch so many lives. Logically, if you can help a large amount of people, it makes sense to do just that.”

The Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences represents the foundation of Penn State and its land-grant mission to serve the public good. To fulfill that mission for a new era of rapid change and global connections, the University is pursuing "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a fast-paced campaign focused on the three key imperatives of a twenty-first-century public university: Open Doors, Create Transformative Experiences, and Impact the World. Through teaching, research, and Extension, and because of generous alumni and friends, the College of Agricultural Sciences is able to offer scholarships to one in four students, create life-shaping opportunities, and make a difference in the world by fueling discovery, innovation, and entrepreneurship. To learn more about supporting the college, visit Information about the campaign is available at

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240 Agricultural Administration Building
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