by Tom Parisi
Northern Illinois University will build a garden near Cole Hall, with a curved peaceful walkway and five illuminated sections of cardinal red granite, as a permanent memorial to victims of the Feb. 14, 2008, shootings on campus.
The plan for “Memorial Garden” was unveiled Saturday during events commemorating the tragedy one year ago. Those activities included a wreath-laying ceremony at the future garden site, located just east of Cole Hall.
Each of the five sections of granite making up the “Reflection Wall” will measure 10 feet in width by 4˝ feet in height, and each will be engraved with the name of one of the five NIU students who lost their lives.
The stone sections also will prominently recall the “Forward, Together Forward” theme – words from the Huskie Fight Song that came to take on greater meaning for the NIU community in the wake of the tragedy.
More than 20 dawn redwood, white oak and evergreen trees will be planted at the site, which will also include benches for visitors. Additionally, a sculpture will be commissioned for Memorial Garden, which will be developed and completed over the course of the next year.
“In contrast to the events that occurred at Cole Hall a year ago today, this will forever be a special place of peace and reflection on our campus,” NIU President John Peters said. “Memorial Garden will honor the memories of the five students we lost that day, while at the same time embracing the resolute Huskie spirit characterized by ‘Forward, Together Forward.’ ”
A 40-member advisory committee – made up of NIU faculty, staff, students, alumni, annuitants, friends, supporters and community members – convened last spring to determine options for a fitting permanent memorial. The committee developed a set of criteria and reviewed more than 200 suggestions submitted by members of the NIU community.
Ultimately, the advisory Memorial Committee identified a peaceful garden and/or sculpture as the top memorial concepts. The group also recommended that the memorial be located within sight of Cole Hall, include the “Forward, Together Forward” theme and be easily accessible to the public. A memorial wall was also among the top concepts identified by the committee.
A smaller group headed by Jeff Daurer, director of capital budgeting and planning for the NIU Division of Finance and Facilities, then created the more detailed memorial plan. Representatives of HKM Architects + Planners, Inc. of Arlington Heights – which designed Barsema Hall, the Yordon Center and the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center – assisted the group, donating its time and expertise in landscape architecture and design.
Development of Memorial Garden, including the commissioning of a sculpture, is expected to cost about $150,000. It will be funded through private donations.
The DeKalb and Sycamore communities, each through their respective Chambers of Commerce, have already raised $66,000 toward the memorial, said Michael Malone, NIU vice president for university advancement and co-chair of the Memorial Committee.
Additionally, the NIU Alumni Association contributed $15,000, and gifts from other individuals have brought the total amount raised to nearly $120,000. (For information on making a contribution, call 815/753-1626).
“We’re very grateful to all the people who came forward and put their time, talents and resources toward this project,” Malone said.
“For those who experienced this tragedy, I think the memorial will have a significant emotional impact,” he said. “And, for those generations to come, Memorial Garden will serve as a very dignified reminder of how precious human life is.”