The Circle of Remembrance

Circle of Remembrance
Along the right field line of Bluffton University Memorial Field a permanent memorial has been built in honor of the 2007 Bluffton baseball team and in memory of the five student-athletes who died following a team bus accident on March 2, 2007, in Atlanta, Ga. In the center of the Circle of Remembrance is a pedestal with the sculpture, Touching Home, created by Bluffton faculty-artist Gregg Luginbuhl.

The Circle of Remembrance was dedicated March 12, 2008, in a private ceremony for members of the 2007 baseball team and their families and the families of the deceased players.

Touching Home - the artist's reflection

by Gregg Luginbuhl
March 12, 2008

Nothing is enough. Nothing could ever be enough--Expensive enough, intricate enough, amazing enough, magnificent enough Nothing!   I thought this at various times as I labored on the sculpture that we will now all know as Touching Home.

My involvement in this memorial began in October with a brief conversation with President Harder in my office.  He outlined plans for the Circle of Remembrance, and threw out the committee's ideas for a pedestal in the middle.  He talked about an elegance of simplicity, and about featuring an enlarged version of the university seal.  I was prepared to support that idea, but promised to do some further thinking.  Later that day, I did what all of you families of players have done innumerable times I drove a crazy number of miles to watch my daughter play a sport.  Kat is a first year student and soccer player at Goshen College in Indiana. The trip there is 2.5 hours.  If I left after my last class, and everything went just right, I could make the start of a 7 p.m. match.  If I left soon after the match, I could be home and in bed by midnight. I know you have made the same trips, and done the same math.  Some say they do it to support their children.  I would have to say that it supports me.  It gives me joy and energy to watch my daughter play and compete. So the evening after I spoke with Jim Harder, I spent 5 hours on the road, watched 2 hours of soccer, and crawled into bed around midnight.  I don't remember consciously thinking about the memorial project.

I woke up at 4 a.m. with the seed of an idea.  As interested as I was in additional sleep, I knew I had to get up and write some things down.  The early excitement centered on making a piece that would be interactive, including the team.  (I have to say, President Harder had not even asked me to make a piece, or even hinted at a commission, and I really was not looking for further work I had scheduled three shows in the coming four months.)  The idea of footprints on home plate was there, and then the magic started.  Home plate has five sides.  Home plate looks like a house. The phrase Touching Home seemed to have layers of meaning.  I careened around my own dark house looking for something large to draw on finding a scrap of newsprint in the basement. By seven o'clock, I had defined a concept that I was excited about, and that seemed to have the potential to contribute to a healing process.  An hour later in my office, I had an energized and synergistic conversation with President Harder that I think both of us will always remember.

Actual work on the project began in early November, and ended January 21 when the final mold was made.  In general, my excitement for the concept and my vision for the sculpture were sustained through many hours.  There were times when I doubted the significance of the project, hearing the voice say nothing is enough.

Sometimes I doubted that the players would be interested in the idea.  But I was reenergized on the December evening when players and coaches gathered to make their mark.  Baseball is a game for hands: hands which hold the bat and ball, hands which send signals, and hands which congratulate.  I invited players to make a hand print that represented their experience of the bus accident. I asked them to limit words and numbers, since the hands themselves would communicate more universally.  I think we will never forget gathering around the mound, considering the mark and its placement, and watching as others pressed their lasting impressions in the clay. A few days later, my wife Karen and I were honored to make a trip with Jim and Karen Harder to Ida, Michigan, to visit with Tim Berta and his family, and to obtain his handprint in clay for the sculpture.

Three art department student assistants inevitably became involved in the work on this sculpture and I would like to acknowledge the importance of their help:  Maegan Rohdes of Lima Shawnee, Amanda Rohrs of Holgate, and especially Brittany Sinnema-Jackson of Ashland.  All of them did work that went well beyond their job descriptions to further progress on this piece.  One evening Brittany and I mixed a half-ton of clay, and formed the basic mound.  Another day I had an idea to use the baseball stitching motif around the bottom of the sculpture to symbolize a united team.  I determined that 5'6" in diameter meant more than 19 feet of stitching around the circumference.  I told Brittany, I have an idea that I wish I wouldn't have had.   She became instrumental in fine-tuning the stitching just before the mold was poured.

In the end, Home in this work references a run scoring achievement, individual homes and families, Bluffton University as home for its students and our heavenly home.  Player's marks show support for each other, unity, perseverance, love for each other and for the game that they all have played together.  Five footprints, taken from the actual cleats of Zachary, David, Scott, Cody and Tyler represent their many achievements and ultimate success, and the impact that they each have had on all of our lives.

Visually, I am asking all who visit this site to think of rounding the bases as a metaphor for our work, for our lives, and especially for our spiritual journeys.  Through individual achievement, a hit or a walk, we get on base.  We make  judgments, decisions, take risks (maybe steal a base), but by and large we survive or progress with the help of our coaches and teammates.  Sometimes we make it home, and celebrate the journey - know the joy of our contribution to the team.  And then we try to get on base again.  Touching Home is an end to a journey, but also a beginning.