Bench serves as a memorial to students, faculty and staff.
By Alison Graef
Students, faculty and staff gathered Sept. 12 for the unveiling of a project more than one year in the making. On a grassy hill west of Fletcher Administration Center, six painted swallows and a full moon adorn an 11-foot-tall aluminum bench, a memorial designed by local artist Luis L. Lopez.
Lopez began work on the bench one year ago after being approached about the project by Dr. Lisa Alcorta, vice president of student success. Lopez said Alcorta immediately connected him with Student Government Association officers Harley Williams, former president; Quintin Longoria, former vice president; and Brett Douglas, former historian.
Williams was inspired to install a memorial at this campus while attending San Antonio Higher Education Representative Assembly (SAHERA) at the end of spring 2016. She said SGA representatives from Texas A&M University-San Antonio said they have a memorial statue that acts as a symbol of remembrance on the campus.
She said the idea of a memorial struck a chord with her because of the recent deaths of former Vice President David Mrizek and architecture sophomore Trevor Anthony Macias.
“That really hit home to us at the time,” Williams said. “Mr. Mrizek had recently passed away and so had Trevor, who used to work in the office of student life as a work-study … and it was really kind of raw emotions for us.”
Williams wanted a memorial to serve as a reminder of students, faculty and staff who have died.
After surveying students and brainstorming, Williams, Longoria and Douglas determined a memorial bench and garden space would be best for this campus.
Lopez, who already had three art installations on campus, worked with the SGA officers to design the bench. Lopez was paid $30,000 from the capital budget.
Lopez said the swallow design is inspired by the Spanish poem “Volverán las oscuras golondrinas” by Gustavo Aldolfo Bequer. Lopez said just as swallows migrate and return to the same location every year to nest, people who have died return to those who knew them in memories. Lopez and 2012 graduate Alexandra Nelipa used a latex enamel to paint the six birds onto the one-half inch-thick aluminum.
The plastic glass moon is 3 feet in diameter and surrounded by LEDs, which illuminate the frosted glass with cool white light at night. “It is a beautiful element,” Lopez said. “It gets you in the mood to think and to remember.”
Lopez said he wants to add spotlights in the surrounding trees to shine on the swallows at night.
The bench was originally intended to be installed in the sunken garden south of Moody Learning Center, but because of planned construction in that area, the location was changed. Lopez said he is pleased with the new site because of the spaciousness and visibility when lit at night. Weighing 550 pounds, the bench is designed in pieces for ease of installation, so Lopez said it could potentially be moved into the garden at a later time.
Douglas said students were impacted by the speakers and the unveiling of the bench at the ceremony.
“I noticed a lot of people genuinely getting emotional … which shows that the bench is invoking the emotion that we would like for the students to have,” Douglas said.
To close the ceremony, everyone who lost someone laid yellow carnations on the bench in remembrance.
Carrie Hernandez, senior student success specialist, recounted her memories of Macias, who had been a work-study with student life before he was killed in a car accident.
“He was so sweet,” she said. “He was so kind and giving … It was sad for us. It was unexpected. We held a special little vigil for him. The staff were kind of just devastated or surprised that it happened. It was a sudden thing; It was not like he was sick.”
Hernandez has a figure of Disney’s character Olaf on her desk that Macias gave to her because he knew she loves Disney. She said it reminds her of Macias and his kindness to others. She said she is glad to have the bench to serve as a centerpiece and symbol in future student memorials.
“I think it’s wonderful that we can honor and remember any … students who may have passed,” Hernandez said.
Lopez said he not only wants the bench to be a place of reflection and remembrance but also a gathering place for friends or a peaceful place to relax and read a book.
“It’s a resting place that’s going to have a relaxation element to the students who are usually very busy,” Lopez said.
“The bench … doesn’t always have to be something that is sad,” Williams said. “It can be a happy little moment. You can go there and, say, eat that person’s favorite food and just kind of remember them. It doesn’t have to always be extremely somber.”