May 4, 2001 marked the dedication of the original Chlois G. Ingram Spirit of Women Park. Along with honoring Chlois Ingram, a hospital volunteer in the 1950s and ‘60s, the park featured ceramic tiles lovingly painted by 1500 donors to celebrate the extraordinary women in their lives. Located on 10th Ave. between the University Hospitals Clinic and Dodd Hall, the green space showcased clusters of colorful ceramic tiles connected by recessed concrete walls. While water tumbled down the walls, a separate granite fountain served as a cornerstone. Benches, trees and shrubs provided solace and refuge for patients, visitors and staff.
A decade later, the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center was in the middle of a $1.1 billion expansion, the largest in University history. Towering cranes roamed through the campus, transforming the landscape. Between building the new James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute and Critical Care Center, completing the Biomedical Research Tower and additions and expansion to the Ross Heart Hospital and the Emergency Department, the deteriorating Spirit of Women Park seemed to be a vestige of a forgotten era.
Back in 1999, when the project was first initiated, men and women from all walks of life flocked to sessions where they could design and paint their tiles. Size options ranged from 4” x 4” ($25) to 8” x 8” ($100) to limited edition 12” x 12” ($500). The result was as unique and varied as the donors themselves: some were simple drawings, while others contained detailed quotes and lists of names. They honored women both living and dead, and even one who at that time were missing, including Stacey Colbert, a former OSU student who had disappeared on March 25 the year before.
Tile painters included Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York; the late Bernadine Healy, MD, former head of the National Institutes of Health and professor and dean of the OSU College of Medicine and Public Health; Abigail Wexner; and Isha Dandavante, a fifth-grader from Columbus, who painted a poem in honor of her mother Rohini. Other women, such as cancer survivor Harriet Grail, created tiles to honor themselves, marking 3-17-97 as the date of her successful operation. “I want to come back every March and look for my tile,” she told the Columbus Dispatch.
Even the construction workers felt emotionally invested. “Here I’m surviving, straight and tall,” Laura Bradford, a general contractor for Hopewell Construction, a female-owned company that oversaw the original project, commented in the Dispatch. “Disease or life has worn me down, but I’m still standing.”
The Spirit of Women Park was actually never at risk for neglect because it was part of the Medical Center expansion plan. “The idea was to relocate it in the heart of everything” in Medical Center Plaza, according to Rick Espe, ASLA, LEED AP, principal at MKSK, the landscape architecture firm that oversaw the project. Now on the corner of Medical Center Drive and 9th Ave, the “new” park encompasses almost an entire block.
The original tiles of the Donor Fountain have been renewed onto etched glass and appear to be “floating” on cascading water atop a 175’ long crescent-shaped reflecting pool. And as with the original, a separate monument honors Chlois G. Ingram and her contributions as a wife, mother, daughter, and friend. Handicapped-accessible tables and sloping mounds, prairie grasses and indigenous wildflowers add a touch of nature to the towering buildings.
“It’s amazing how many people are touched by the park and the Medical Center,” says Rick. “Even the construction crew shared their stories about families and loved ones;” he goes on, echoing the sentiments of the original builders. And now that the park is at the epicenter, its ripples of comfort and healing can spread even further.