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‘Sir Arthur’ of McKee

Visionary Arthur McKee founded his garden with Waldo Sexton in 1932, giving joy to thousands – and now to future generations

Waldo Sexton and Arthur McKee at McKee Jungle Garden

Waldo Sexton and Arthur McKee at McKee Jungle Garden

In honor of our 20-year anniversary, we’ve pulled 12 favorite stories from our archives to share with you each month. This one remembering “Sir Arthur” of McKee appeared in our March 2001 issue.

– Editor

 

Question: Why is McKee Botanical Garden called McKee? Answer: It is named after one of the founders, Arthur McKee. Question: Who was this man his step-children called “Sir Arthur”? Answer: He was a man with a determined glint in his blue eyes softened by a wry sense of humor,  a millionaire who made his fortune in the steel business. He was also a man who loved plants and flowers, particularly orchids. A man who loved to watch the patterns made by the sun filtering through the trees in the jungle. A man who wanted to share these pleasures with others.

He was born in State College, Pennsylvania, in 1871 and spent his youth in close contact with the outdoors. He developed his love of nature as the result of the many happy years he spent camping with his family in the Allegheny mountains of Pennsylvania. His father was dean of Penn State College, and Arthur graduated from there with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1891. In 1893 he married Marion Deane and went to work as an assistant engineer at the American Steel & Wire Co. in Cleveland, soon rising to the position of Cleveland district engineer.

But in early 1905, with business conditions in the country unstable, he was asked by the vice president to join the other employees in taking a salary cut.

“You can afford it, I can’t,” replied McKee, now the father of two daughters, and since he felt it was a backward step, he left the firm. With some borrowed capital he opened his own office as a consulting engineer in the iron and steel industry. Due to the success of the new enterprise, he was able to pay back the borrowed capital quickly.