The Arnold Arboretum and the horticultural community of Massachusetts lost a good friend, tireless advocate, and philanthropic partner with the death of Willard P. Hunnewell, Sr. on November 8. Willard, who celebrated his 101st birthday last June, will be remembered at the Arboretum as a devoted steward of his family’s long legacy of participation with the Arnold Arboretum, particularly as a champion of the Isabella Welles Hunnewell Internship Program.
Willard Peele Hunnewell was born June 1, 1921 to Walter Hunnewell and his wife Minna Lyman Hunnewell, and was the great-grandson of Arnold Arboretum benefactor and nineteenth-century horticultural pioneer H. H. Hunnewell. He graduated from Harvard University in 1943, served as a navigator for the U.S. Navy in the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters of World War II. Willard was the owner of the Apco Mossberg Company, maker of precision instruments, torque tools, and machined parts. His wife, Dorothea E. K. Hunnewell, predeceased him in 2013, and he is survived by sons Willard P. Hunnewell Jr. of Edina, MN and George L. Hunnewell of Sherborn, MA.
Along with his brother Walter Hunnewell Jr. and members of the extended Hunnewell Family, Willard helped endow the Arboretum’s summer program in horticultural training, which was renamed the Isabella Welles Hunnewell Internship Program in 2003. Willard was among the most active and generous supporters of the program and was an early donor in the Arboretum’s current capital initiative to install emergency irrigation systems throughout the landscape. Willard’s love of conifers was another thread connecting him to the Arnold Arboretum, where the conifer collection still bears the living legacy of plant sharing between H. H. Hunnewell and his friend Charles Sprague Sargent, the Arboretum’s founding director. Willard was a frequent participant in the Arboretum’s education programs for decades, attending classes, lectures, and Tree Mobs well into his 90s. His long and storied association with the Arboretum was recognized with a lifetime membership in 2017, and he was a charter member of the Arboretum’s James Arnold Society for planned giving.
In addition to his interest in the Arnold Arboretum, Willard pursued a lifetime passion for nature, serving as a member and past president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and as a volunteer with the Charles River Watershed Association. Throughout his life, Willard played a leading role in the continuing his family’s horticultural legacy. This included managing beehives on the Hunnewell property and acting as caretaker for the Hunnewell Arboretum and Pinetum created by his great grandfather. His work with the Hunnewell Estates was recognized in 2010 by the International Dendrology Society, which bestowed its most prestigious award—the IDS Medal—to Willard and the Hunnewell Arboretum, the first such award bestowed on an American garden or gardener.
Willard will be greatly missed as a consequential figure in New England horticulture and as a devoted friend and ally of the Arnold Arboretum. See his obituary here.