‘A place of peace and healing’: Dayton artists selected for Oregon District 8/4 Memorial

Completed memorial expected in August 2024.



The four Dayton artists chosen to create a memorial in tribute to the victims of the Oregon District tragedy say their vision is to create “a public art memorial and contemplative space designed to remember the nine victims, first responders, families, and all those affected by the violence of the August 4, 2019 Oregon District shooting.”

The 8/4 Memorial Committee selected the team and awarded them $200,000 to install the “Seed of Life” memorial in a plaza next to the Trolley Stop in the Oregon District. Completion is expected to be finished by Aug. 4, 2024, the fifth anniversary of the tragedy.

When the committee gathered to determine what the memorial should communicate artistically and emotionally, Memorial Co-Chair Sandy Gudorf recalled key themes that were imperative.

“The (memorial) needed to be one for reflection and healing as well as being inspirational and a celebration of life — honoring those we lost but also the resiliency of our community,” Gudorf said. “When you look at the design the Seed of Life team came up with, it does all of those things. The Seed of Life team brought their heart to the design. They put everything out there and nailed it. We’re so thrilled that they’re also local artists which means a lot as well.”



Within the project, duties will be divided into five components: poem, mosaic, sculpture, bench and plantings.

POEM: Poet Sierra Leone will write a series of poems dedicated to the victims, first responders, and survivors of the incident. Leone will interview community members to listen as they share how they were affected by the incident and what remembrance and healing means to them. The poem will blossom from a combination of what she hears and her own experiences and impressions of our community. Phrases and words from the poems will be embedded in the mosaic and bench designs.

MOSIAC: Artist Jes McMillan will create the primary design element of the memorial, a large mosaic. Connecting the existing concrete and brick ground, the curved bench and planter, and the sidewalk edge of the plaza, the Mosaic will feature a radial geometry centering on a symbolic shape: a seed. Created with light blue and green chips of treated porcelain and put in place by volunteers, the mosaic will also be outlined by embedded stainless steel “bands.”

SCULPTURE: Artists Terry Welker and James Pate will create a grouping of nine, 7- to 9-foot-tall tall petal or leaf forms in stainless steel. The nine forms, signifying the nine victims, may be seen as emerging from the “seeds” centered in the mosaic; and form the backdrop of the geometry of the site.

BENCH: Using the existing concrete wall, the team will add a backrest to create a 36-foot-wide curved, comfortable seating area. The backrest will include components of the mosaic and the poem and the bench itself will be clad with a teak seating surface.

PLANTINGS: The team will add blue fescue grass as ground cover in the existing plant bed and in a recessed planter on the edge of the design to further ensconce the space.

“We are place-makers and peacemakers,” the team’s artistic statement reads.

“In order to create a place of peace and healing, we must first heal the place. Rather simply placing an object in the existing setting, we’ve chosen to recreate the entire plaza within the existing site. Understanding that the site is a well-established part of the district, we seek to balance the social and cultural conditions of the space with the need to design a quiet place of reflection.”

Collaborative cohesion

Welker is an accomplished artist living and working in Kettering whose notable work “Fractal Rain” is featured inside the Dayton Metro Library downtown. He has also known his fellow Seed of Life collaborators for over a decade. Due to the cohesiveness within his team, he is excited to begin a journey he hopes will reap a fruitful result that will bring a sense of evolution and growth to the plaza.

“It’s important to take a space that needs some help and make it better,” said Welker. “Most successful small urban spaces are ones that are connected to the street. And I love this team. We will all have input. For example, Sierra’s poetry will provide guidance to us when we’re making aesthetic decisions on form and space. This is a very collaborative process.”

Leone, co-founder of Oral Funk Poetry Productions and an Ohio Governor’s Award winner, is equally eager to transform a place of healing into a new beginning. She hopes the memorial will provide great introspection for future generations.

“This memorial is about honoring the nine lives, the nine human beings, who no longer exist,” Leone said. “We hope to (spotlight) the (aspects) of who they were. This memorial will also be a place for their families to come and potentially read about their ancestors, their loved ones, for forever and ever. And the piece of the memorial that will be on the ground and reflected on the back of the bench is for the everyday human being walking through the Oregon District who may feel something about the incident.”

She is also aware of the magnitude of the moment personally and professionally.

“We get to be vulnerable ourselves as we walk with our community in the healing of a very deep wound,” Leone said. “We are in the process of literally enhancing and expanding our ability and capacity to love beyond this particular moment. I hope my words can be a sacred place to land for the community whether you’re looking for joy, peace, ease or an opportunity to remember in a way differently than all that came in the aftermath of this horrible event.”



Purposeful remembrance

The memorial will honor the following victims: Megan Betts, 22; Monika Brickhouse, 39; Nicholas Cumer, 25; Derrick Fudge, 57; Thomas McNichols, 25; Lois Oglesby, 27; Saeed Saleh, 38; Logan Turner, 30; and Beatrice Warren-Curtis, 36.

LaSandra James, Oglesby’s mother and a member of the 8/4 Memorial Committee, appreciated that “every voice was heard” during the process. She anticipates the memorial’s impactful purpose as a center of consolation for all of the grieving families including her own.

“My granddaughter was 2 months old when her mother was murdered,” James said. “I want the world to know how much love my daughter had for her children. She was a beautiful person inside and out. This memorial allows an opportunity for my family and other families to remember, to make sure the story is told about what happened and make sure the story is told correctly. On 8/4/19, I felt like I got a hug from my community, my city and the world. This memorial reiterates that hug.”

“We realize there’s still work to be done but this is the next step to make sure my daughter and others are not forgotten,” she said. “There’s a sad kinship among those who have been affected but I think this memorial will be great.”

Dion Green, a member of the 8/4 Memorial Committee, continues to be a source of encouragement for others within the unique kinship James expressed. As founder and CEO of the Fudge Foundation, he travels to cities across the country affected by mass shootings including Lewiston, Maine. The mass shooting in Lewiston was the 565th in the U.S. in 2023 and the deadliest so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

“I remind people that light will break through the dark tunnel they are experiencing,” said Green, Fudge’s son. “It’s important to keep walking forward and know you are not alone.”

He also commends the selection process and looks forward to the memorial elevating a sense of purpose and renewal.

“I hope the memorial brings hope and joy to someone in darkness or feeling depressed,” Green said. “I hope the memorial inspires and gives courage to people. The space will have life put into it. We will be celebrating life.”



‘A big moment’

Chosen from a pool of 39 proposals across the country, five semi-finalists were selected through the Request for Qualifications process that was managed by The Contemporary Dayton. Each artist/artist team selected developed and presented full proposals. The winning team was selected based on feedback from the community, the art jurors, and the 8/4 Memorial Committee.

“This is a big moment,” said Gudorf. “The 8/4 Committee was very thoughtful and deliberate throughout this process. The families and survivors were our top priority, but we soon discovered that the whole community was profoundly affected by this tragedy as well. So, it became more apparent that we needed to talk to the community, get input, and make sure the memorial reflected the wishes and desires of the families and survivors but also our broader community.”

She also praised the team for envisioning a concept that suited the multifaceted fabric of the Oregon District.

“The Oregon District is a tight-knit residential community and a tight-knit group of eclectic businesses that were profoundly affected,” Gudorf said. “It fits in with the fabric of the Oregon District. The plaza has always been a gathering place but with the memorial there, and this particular design, it can and will continue to be a place for the community to come together.”

Funding for the 8/4 Memorial is possible thanks to the support from the CareSource Foundation, city of Dayton, Conor Group Kids & Community Partners, Dayton Children’s Hospital, Kettering Health Network, Montgomery County, Premier Health, Sinclair College, University of Dayton, and donations from the Gem City Shine hosted by Dave Chappelle.

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