William Chambers Coker
William Chambers Coker was born on October 24, 1872 in Hartsville, North Carolina. He came from a family of higly educated scientists and started his biology interest with his father's microscope. William graduated from South Carolina College in 1894 where he was involved in the tennis team and the Euphradian Literary Society and given the title of "Highly Distinguished Graduate." After graduation, he moved to Wilmington to work at Atlantic Natiional Bank. Two years later, he became the Vice President of the company. A year later, he had earned his doctorate from John Hopkins University and wrote his thesis on "On the Gametophytes and Embryo of Toxodum".
Coker joined the faculty in 1902 to teach botany in the biology department. He was also appointed as the first chair of the University Buildings and Grounds Committee. In 1934, he married Louise Venable. At UNC, Coker only had one microscope to use, but he still managed to created a Botany Department in New East, which later moved to Davie Hall. Next to his new department building was 5 acres of swamp land that was used for the University president's cows and horses. President Venable asked Coker to help him improve it's looks. Coker used his own funds to beautify the campus and designed the arobretum out of the boggy pasture. He wanted a place for botany students to study North Carolina plants in 1903. Later, many Asian plants were added to enhance the beauty. Today the garden contains 400 varieties of ornamental plants and shrubs. The arboretum's original wisteria arbor was built of native black locust in 1911, with plantings selected by Dr. Coker.
Coker was a staunch believer in the importance of natural beauty, and he felt students should be able to walk out of their dorm rooms and see wild, undeveloped areas. In 1945, Coker retired from the University but he still worked on writing scientific articles. He died in 1953.