Plaques leave their marks on Western
By Mark Kearney
June 20, 2013
Unless you were among 30 friends and family who gathered on a slightly breezy day in May, you probably don’t know why there’s a plaque on campus for Brenda MacEachern.
You wouldn’t know the plaque commemorates the curator of the visual resource library from 1970-2012 and that it lies within sight of her former office window. You wouldn’t have seen family members toss a few shovelfuls of dirt on a newly planted sweet gum tree near the Labatt Visual Arts Centre, planted there in her honour.
MacEachern’s plaque is one of about 300 dotting the campus, each a tribute to someone or something and all with a story. To know what these emotional talismans to Western graduates, faculty and staff represent, you start with Jim Galbraith.
The supervisor of landscape and recycle services in Facilities Management is the go-to guy who meets with family and colleagues wanting to honour someone. Galbraith, who has done this for some 30 years and handles about 10-15 plaque requests annually, scopes out where the plaques and the usual accompanying tree should go.
But that may change soon.
Galbraith hopes to suspend the program temporarily because, he believes, Western is running out of good spots that have led to less-than-ideal locations for planting trees. Instead, he wants to develop three separate memorial gardens – one for students, one for staff and faculty and another for alumni.
Though these metal inscriptions (a plaque and tree cost about $750-$1,000 while a bench with plaque costs about the same) are ultimately about preserving memories, Galbraith said the process can be “a sad time.” The plaques often commemorate students who never lived past their 20s.
Those wanting plaques often have a location in mind, but sometimes Galbraith recommends somewhere else. He knows the campus inside out so “we always go for a walk,” he said of the first step in the process.
So, to get a sense of what these plaques are all about, let’s go for a walk.
Starting near Thames Hall and Somerville House, you’ll find an American beech tree planted by the Med’s ’50 class, which is the oldest known commemorative on campus. You’ll also find a plaque for Dr. Kimberley Schultz, who is remembered by Kinesiology faculty, staff and students. The inscription reads: “May her spirit rest in peace here at Western, one of her favourite places.”
Most plaques honour someone, Galbraith said, because “they went to school here and it was pretty important. It was the years where they worked hard and graduated. It’s a tie to them.”
Over at the Spencer Engineering building there’s a pear tree in full bloom on this particular day, a living memorial to Kevin Michael Vlcko. A plaque for Panayioti (Peter) Dimitroulas (October 1978-May 1999) tells us he was “a great son and brother, an outstanding young man.” Fourteen magnolia trees lined up nearby honour the 14 women slain at L-Ecole Polytechnqiue Montreal in December 1989.
A shady spot by the HBA Building (formerly the Ivey Business School) overlooking Talbot College has several plaques and commemorative trees. One for Stephen Cartwright, whom Galbraith knew as a young man, tells us that “The world is poorer for his passing/The world is richer for his passing through.”
On UC Hill there’s a plaque dedicated to Capt. Alfred Edwin ‘Eddy’ McKay of the Royal Flying Squadron in 2007 that recognizes him as a Western athlete who was killed in action on Dec. 28, 1917.
But not all plaques are linked to sadness. Some recognize an anniversary of a faculty or somebody’s retirement. A plaque near Middlesex College for Henning Ramussen, professor emeritus in Applied Math, mentions, in Monty Python-style, that he’s “pining for the fjords.”
And one on UC Hill celebrates a beginning rather than an end. It reads: “Because they worked together and fell in love at U.W.O. Kenji and Munjula (Phillips) Saito present this lilac tree as a gift to the University to commemorate their wedding on July 11, 1998.”
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