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Friday, February 23, 2024

Perennial Pleasure

When a young John Koehler moved from Boonville to Evansville in the fall of 1951 to attend what was then Evansville College, the aesthetics of life on the scenic campus left a lasting impression on him. “The campus in general was beautiful and well-landscaped,” Koehler recalls. “But the crown jewel of the land was the president’s rose garden.”

The garden, located near what was then the president’s on-campus residence, was a place where the college’s first ladies hosted invitation-only afternoon teas for important patrons and professors. For Koehler, it was more than a lovely garden; it was a symbol of tranquility in a post-war era and a reminder of his good fortune to be in college at a time when many of his peers were fighting in a war in Korea. “We were children of World War II,” Koehler says of his classmates. “We had fathers and uncles heavily involved in the war, and we had all been involved in the home front. And the draft was still alive and well.”

Fifty years after leaving what is now the University of Evansville, he’s pleased that it was the rose garden that was selected to be the focus of a gift from his graduating class of 1955. The project: to move the rose garden, which had begun to age and fade in beauty through the years, to a new location to make way for the new Schroeder Family School of Business Administration Building.

As Koehler recalls, he and his classmates were looking for something “pleasing” to give to the university in celebration of their 50th class reunion; a restored and embellished rose garden relocated to a more public area for the pleasure of all university staff and students seemed fitting. After the project’s completion, when the garden –– now known as the President’s Historic Rose Garden –– was dedicated in a ceremony last fall, Koehler was reminded of the many fond memories the old garden evoked. “A classmate confessed to me recently when he had a heavy date, they would visit the rose garden,” says Koehler.

The President’s Historic Rose Garden, now located on the Lincoln Avenue side of the Koch Center for Engineering and Science, is a culmination of efforts launched by UE Vice President Jack Barner several years ago. He’d seen how the garden had aged through the decades and knew that with the university president’s official residence no longer located on campus, it had lost its role in the campus life. Barner contacted the Southwestern Indiana Master Gardener Association for advice on how to care for the garden until it could be moved. In response, the association’s volunteers, trained by Purdue University horticulturists, decided to adopt the garden and asked Evansville rose expert John Adams to guide them.

It’s been a time-consuming but rewarding effort, says Master Gardener Tami Sparks. In fall 2006, after identifying the many varieties of roses in the garden, Sparks and her crew of volunteers pruned back the bushes, tagged them to identify their variety, then dug them up and transplanted them to the new site. Thanks to the gift from Koehler’s Class of 1955, walkways have been laid, two benches for visitors have been added, and 95 boxwoods have been placed around the garden’s perimeter, encircling the 130 blooming bushes. Sparks and other volunteers continue to care for the garden on a weekly basis, and that gift from Koehler and his classmates helps pay for maintenance supplies and to add or replace rose bushes.

“It’s in the perfect setting,” says Sparks. “It’s one of the only public places in town where there are only roses.” Koehler, too, is delighted with the revival of the garden. “What better way to explain the feeling of a beautiful time than roses?” he says. “The garden is a symbol of good life and the promise to provide hope for the future.”

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