Garden honors students lost too soon
A peaceful spot on the East Carolina University campus was dedicated in February as a permanent remembrance to students who have died while enrolled at ECU.
The Student Memorial Garden is in the center of main campus between the Erwin Building and the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center and is visible from Mendenhall Student Center. The natural area surrounded by azaleas, oaks and dogwoods is a place for meditation and reflection, officials said.
After an indoor dedication ceremony, the rain held off long enough for officials and guests to unveil the centerpiece of the garden, a sculpture by Donald “Trey” Martin III. Martin, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran from Princeton, is an undergraduate student in the School of Art and Design in the College of Fine Arts & Communication. His design for the memorial was chosen in a campus-wide vote among three student finalists last spring.
The bronze sculpture, featuring a broken circle and three flying doves, is mounted on a granite base and stands about 12 feet tall. “Everything is there for a purpose,” Martin said of the design. “The disc represents the circle of life. It’s never ending, it keeps going, but sometimes, in this instance, the circle is broken.” The doves represent the past, present and future.
‘Where all Pirates can go’
Over the past 10 years, about 100 students have died, mainly due to accidents or illness, said Dr. Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor of student affairs. The students’ names were read during the ceremony.
“By placing a memorial garden to honor our lost classmates and friends, we can have a place where all Pirates can go and remember the legacies left behind,” said Student Body President Matt Paske.
Hardy first had the idea for the memorial after a student was killed during active duty in the military. While ECU’s Parent Advisory Council honors deceased students with engraved bricks at the Cupola, Hardy wanted “a physical space where students and others could celebrate and reflect on the lives of students whom we lost.”
One is Katie Ball, a 23-year-old graduate student who died from cancer in 2007. Her mother, Nancy Ball, major gifts officer for the College of Fine Arts & Communication, served on the project planning committee.
“I just think it’s a special place,” Ball said. “The sculpture is beautiful. Basically the meaning is that life goes on, both for us and the one we lost.”
It serves as a tribute to ECU students and a place for solitude, she said. “Even if you don’t have a loss in your family, we all need a place to go and think. Everyone has their problems, and just to have a comforting place, right in the middle of campus, is wonderful,” Ball said.
Jane Llewellyn drove from Charlotte for the ceremony. Her son, Andrew “Drew” Llewellyn, found out he had a rare form of cancer on the first day of his senior year in 2005. His cancer went into remission after chemotherapy and radiation. When the cancer returned, he had a stem cell transplant, which seemed successful. But he died unexpectedly at age 23 in the hospital.
“We knew he didn’t want us to sit around and pout,” she said. So every year on his birthday, Feb. 13, they host a blood drive. Many of his old college friends participate, and the Llewellyns are able to keep that connection to ECU.
“Drew loved it here,” she said. “Drew loved life and from the time he was born he was an adventure. If there was chaos, you could count on Drew being in the middle of it.”
‘By a student, for the students’
University landscape architect John Gill and Laura Sweet, senior associate dean of students, helped select the garden’s location with student input.
Officials worked with the School of Art and Design to hold a contest and commission a sculpture from more than 20 student-submitted ideas that were narrowed down to three and voted on by the student body last spring.
“We’re happy we have a sculpture in the garden that was done by a student, for the students and funded by students,” Hardy said.
The Student Government Association – led by then student body president Josh Martinkovic – provided $35,000 for the project. Of that, $10,000 was used for site preparation and the rest was for the sculpture commission. “We are grateful to the SGA for stepping up to support this project,” Hardy said. “It shows how much they care about their peers.”
‘These kids will not be forgotten’
Chancellor Steve Ballard said the project reinforced the university’s commitment to its students. “This project shows that as well as anything we’ve ever done,” Ballard said.
Bob Lucas, chairman of ECU’s board of trustees, said the memorial reminds everyone to focus on things that truly matter. “I think if these kids were here, they would tell us to cherish life,” Lucas said. “The one message I want to share with everybody is these kids won’t be forgotten, and they will always be Pirates.”
Ball added that she hopes the memorial garden “will bring an awareness of how we should appreciate each other and our lives because you never know when something will happen.”
Collaborators for the project were SGA, the College of Fine Arts & Communication, the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Students Affairs, the Department of Student Involvement and Leadership, and ECU Facilities Services.
Planning committee members for the memorial design and sculpture selection were Hardy, Ball, Hanna Jubran, Dean Smith, Michael Ward, Carl Billingsley, Michael Drought, Susan Beck Frazier and Mary Schulken. Project managers were Jubran, Billingsley, Smith, Gill and Ann Marie Holder.