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‘Garden of Hope’ plan blossoms at Tucson Jewish Community Center

This artist’s rendering of the ‘Gan Tikvah’ or ‘Garden of Hope’ at night. The garden is scheduled to open at the Tucson Jewish Community Center in 2019. (Photo: Barbara Grygutis Sculpture LLC)

It is forbidden to live in a city that does not have a garden or greenery

– Mishnah Kiddushin 4:12

The ‘Garden of Hope’ at the Tucson Jewish Community Center will be a multipurpose healing space. (Photo: Barbara Grygutis Sculpture LLC)

Gan Tikvah, the Garden of Hope, will be a contemplative oasis designed with the concept of intentionality, and a healing extension from the Tucson Jewish Community Center Sculpture Garden. Designed for multigenerational use, the unique pocket park will provide a shady haven for all seasons in the daylight hours and an illuminating experience with distinctive lighting after sunset. Fitting with the Tucson J’s vision of holistic wellness, it will be a place of enduring beauty, a place to heal, to reflect, and to find peace, according to its visionaries.

Inspiration for the space is a story of hope, celebration and gratitude. Bonnie Sedlmayr-Emerson was diagnosed with a melanoma 12 years ago that metastasized to her lung. “It was stage four and terrible,” recalls her husband of 42 years, Randy Emerson.

“After difficult chemotherapy for three years, she went to the cancer center for a drug trial. The immunotherapy drugs worked on a small subset of people. It is a true miracle story,” Emerson says, adding that his wife now has no evidence of disease. “Hope became her mantra. We are grateful for her outcome and as a family wanted to pay back that gratitude.”

“Randy was well into the concept and design before I learned about it, and not directly from him,” says Bonnie. “The Garden is, of course, extremely close to my heart since Randy conceived of the idea for creating a peaceful, colorful, meditative outdoor environment because, during my journey with melanoma, we so often found ourselves drawn to healing spaces, to being outside in nature, to being in gardens.”

“The garden celebrates the arts, which is important to the JCC spiritually, emotionally and cognitively,” says the center’s CEO and president, Todd Rockoff. He describes the garden’s future location outside the café, overlooked by the fitness center, adjacent to the sculpture garden. “It will be a meditative space inspired by art and creativity, so it integrates into the master plan.” The design plan opens the existing wing wall to create an artistic gateway between the two spaces.

Emerson contacted long-time friend and world-renowned local artist Barbara Grygutis for the design. Grygutis has created more than 75 large-scale public art works throughout North America and is recognized internationally for her sculptural environments.

“Designing a full space that’s a work of art is a unique opportunity,” Grygutis says. “It’s different than a public art piece. Architectural elements become part of the work of art beyond functionality, with spiritual content. For any designer that’s a special, wonderful task.”

The Garden’s design both contrasts and complements the existing JCC architecture, she says.

Two paths define a green belt running through the garden of flowering plants native to the Sonoran Desert, mature trees, desert landscaping, shade canopies, two bubbling stone fountains, and sculptural pieces inspiring harmony. With benches and reading areas, it also will become a venue for small outdoor events and receptions. “As we see the JCC as the community’s town square, and a place for the community to gather, this will be the town square of the JCC,” says Rockoff.

“This has to be a spiritual oasis,” Grygutis continues. “Randy is guiding the project in a beautiful way. It’s very personal for him and is heartfelt. He’s imparted that to all of us.” Landscape architect Jennifer Patton of Wilder Landscape also is involved in the project, along with Tucson artists Lynn Rae Lowe and Tom Philabaum.

A year in the making, the design is due for completion this month, with ground-breaking anticipated in August and opening in the first quarter of 2019, says Emerson. Funding comes from a family gift and fundraising among Emerson family and friends, the community and corporate support. “It’s a quiet campaign for a niche project,” says Rockoff, describing it as an affinity project for the family under Emerson’s leadership. Emerson was a past chair of the J’s board and has remained involved as a leader and volunteer for many years.

“Randy knew I would want the Garden of Hope not to be a garden about me or my journey with cancer, but inspired by healing times spent out-of-doors and a place for everyone’s journeys and everyone’s stories. That he chose to create a space for our community inspired by our story is so meaningful to me, our children and grandchildren,” says Bonnie.

“Lady Bird Johnson said it so well: ‘Where there are flowers there is hope,’” says Bonnie. “The Garden will be a place for all of us, because we all have experiences, physical and emotional, which leave us in need of uplift and hope. Our garden will be a place for reflecting, remembering, and a place for refuge.”