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Sep. 7, 2007

Gmelch garden

Jordan Sherbondy (left) and Elizabeth Childs transplanted hostas as part of the Gmelch Memorial Garden project. They joined classmates from Cynthia Haynes' Horticulture 330 lab (Herbaceous Ornamental Plants) to work on the project Tuesday. Photo by Bob Elbert.

Plantings in Lagomarcino courtyard honor Paula Gmelch

by Erin Rosacker

The courtyard of Lagomarcino Hall, almost hidden in the midst of campus, holds a special place in the hearts of many Iowa Staters. On Sept. 14, a memorial garden in this oasis will be dedicated in the name of Paula Cowgill Gmelch.

Gmelch arrived at Iowa State with her husband, Walt, who served as dean of the College of Education from 1998 to 2004. She was killed in a car-pedestrian accident last March in San Francisco, where Walt is dean of the School of Education at the University of San Francisco.

"The courtyard was a very special spot to her," said Cathy Curtis, communications specialist in the College of Human Sciences. "She was very instrumental in getting the Courtyard Café established and the 'Enlightenment' mural installed."

While at Iowa State, Paula Gmelch helped coordinate the Family and Consumer Sciences Education Leadership Academy, a graduate program for professionals. She also helped launch the university's yearlong "Strengthening Families to Become the Best" campaign in 2000.

Creating the memorial

Private gifts funded the garden, which is a collection of plants and trees being added to the courtyard's existing landscaping.

"The Gmelch garden is really a group of unusual and different trees, shrubs and groundcovers selected specifically to enhance the existing unique collection of plants in the Lagomarcino courtyard," said landscape architect Rhonda Martin. "These new plants will be scattered throughout the southern and middle sections of the courtyard to replace plants that have died of old age, or were damaged by the more recent tornado and ice storms."

Crews have cleared the debris and damage, and much of the planting should be completed before the dedication ceremony. Martin said the courtyard's unique location allowed for the inclusion of diverse foliage in the garden design.

"It's a very select area," she said. "Lagomarcino's courtyard offers a protected micro-climate in which select plants that would not normally tolerate our exposed Midwest winters will survive and thrive."

The bulk of new plants will be installed near the café entrance on the north end of the courtyard. Another cluster of plantings will be added just outside the south entrance to the courtyard.

Highlights of the garden design include a Japanese Stewartia tree with multi-colored, shedding bark and a rare yellowwood tree. Many of the plants and trees will provide fragrant blooms, including a Carol Mackie daphne shrub and a Merrill magnolia tree.

The dedication event, which runs from 3 to 5 p.m., will be what Curtis described as "low-key," giving people a chance to share memories of Gmelch. Walt will be in attendance, and many of Paula's friends and former colleagues are expected to return to campus for the ceremony. Refreshments will be provided.

Curtis said a temporary memorial plaque will be placed inside the Courtyard Café in time for the ceremony, replaced later by a permanent plaque with photos.

Paula Gmelch

Paula Gmelch


"The courtyard was a very special spot to [Paula Gmelch]. She was very instrumental in getting the Courtyard Cafe established and the 'Enlightenment' mural installed."

Cathy Curtis