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Orrie Friedman’s plants taken care of by the Chemistry Department

If you’re willing to make the trek up to the third floor in the SSC to study, or take the elevator ride up, you’ll be greeted by a variety of fauna sitting out in the hallway. There are various potted plants, lush and well-cared for, with an intriguing past. 


In one of the pots there sits a sign, “From the Office Garden of Orrie Friedman.” The only thing is, Friedman passed away in 2009, so who has been caring for his plants? 


After Friedman’s passing, the plants were passed down in the Chemistry Department of the university. The first caretaker was Judith Hertzfeld, a former professor of biochemistry at the university. Hertzfeld cared for the plants for over 10 years before handing off the role to Meghan Hennelly, Chemistry Department Administrator and Special Projects Manager of Space and Building Operations for the Division of Science, in March 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic. 


In an interview with The Brandeis Hoot, Hennelly said that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic she was able to come into the building and water the plant due to her status as an essential worker in the labs while Hertzfeld transitioned into retirement. 


Hennelly said she gets into the university early in the morning and waters the plants then. 


“[The plants] are nice. They’re calming. They eat up our CO2,” Hennelly said in the interview and she added that plants give us something pretty to look at. 


Hennelly offered advice for caring for plants. “Judy [Hertzfeld], don’t read this,” Hennelly joked, “I water depending on the humidity level.” 


During the summer Hennelly waters the plants every other week, whereas in the winter she waters every week, or every eight to nine days. 


“I love plants,” Hennelly told The Hoot, “I spend every moment in my garden when I can.” Though she joked that this habit of hers was a detriment to her housework. 


When it comes to the care of plants, people should be aware of the types of plants they are caring for and what the plants’ needs are, advised Hennelly. Caring for plants takes time and energy, trial and error, according to Hennelly.


“Don’t give up on plants … they’re more resilient than you think,” Hennelly said. She offered an anecdote about one of the plants still in the SSC: The cornstalk plant, Hennelly explained, had started to die and it came to a point where they had stopped watering it. Rebecca Gieseking, an assistant professor of chemistry, had her husband, an arborist, come in to cut back some of the stalk to help see if it could come back. They resumed watering the plant and it did in fact come back. They now lovingly refer to the plant as Lazarus, said Hennelly. 


Hennelly’s love for plants is shared by other faculty and staff members. Hennelly noted one staff member, Ana Hernandez, who also enjoys the plants and has taken pieces to propagate. Other faculty members in the Chemistry Department are also involved in caring for various plants around the labs and classroom, according to Hennelly. 


“We definitely love plants in this department,” Hennelly said. The department has accumulated plants, citing different instances where faculty members have brought in plants to be cared for. One faculty member brought an orchid from her mother’s home after she moved, Hennelly said. 


Plants can be found scattered through the labs, in the SSC and in the Rosenstiel building. The plants are getting a new life in the science department of the university. 


Hennelly spoke to The Hoot about potentially starting a gardening club at the university. According to Hennelly, there was a gardening club about six to seven years ago. She hopes to one day recreate the club to create a space where community members, including faculty, staff and students, can discuss issues they’re having with plants and swap plants and seeds. 


Though Friedman has passed, his legacy still lives in his plants. As his plants continue to flourish he remains with the university in spirit and within the spirit of the Chemistry Department. 


Friedman leaves behind another legacy aside from his plants. He was the founder of Collaborative Research Inc., according to his obituary, which was responsible for helping pioneer the biotechnology industry. He also worked on a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, which his brother had suffered from. 


Friedman was also a philanthropist and donated $1.5 million to Temple Israel. The temple then named its school the Trudy Friedman-Bell Religious School after Friedman’s daughter, who passed away shortly after giving birth to twins, according to the obituary. 


Friedman worked into his 90s and before becoming sick, he planned on conducting another decade’s worth of research, according to the obituary. Friedman passed away from complications from Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 94. 


“Considering where I started from and where I wound up, life owes me nothing,’’ said Friedman, according to his obituary. 


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