CONWAY — A dying red-oak tree that once served as part of a memorial to veterans has taken on new life at Wingo Hall at the University of Central Arkansas.
The tree was one of 46 planted when World War II ended, each symbolizing an Arkansas State Teachers College [now UCA] student who had been killed in the war.
These memorial trees, now towering several feet tall, line Donaghey Avenue, standing in front of Wingo, McCastlain and Bernard halls, and in front of the UCA Student Center.
Two sculptures have emerged from one of these trees, which was dying. The first, Valor Bear, a large black bear (UCA’s mascot), was carved earlier this year by Gary Keegan of Des Moines, Iowa, and stands outside Wingo Hall.
The other, Ring of Peace, was created by
Bryan W. Massey Sr., a UCA art professor, and sits in-
side Wingo Hall near the board of trustees conference room.
UCA administrators, faculty and board of trustee members, along with several veterans and others, gathered Oct. 2 as these two pieces
of art were dedicated. The dedication was held in conjunction with Conway ArtsFest, held Sept. 27 through Oct. 5.
Jimmy Bryant, UCA archivist, presided over the program which included remarks by Tom Courtway, UCA president; Gayle Seymour, professor of art and associate dean of the UCA College of Fine Arts and Communication; Mary Ferguson, who was a student on campus when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and Massey.
Courtway announced the name of the student who won a “name the bear” contest — freshman Nakita Higgins of Nassau, Bahamas, who chose the name Valor.
Higgins received a $200 gift card for his winning entry. In his submission, Higgins explained why
he thought Valor would be
a fitting name for the bear.
“I selected Valor because it means to be brave and courageous, especially in times of battle, and I feel that the school and its mascot embody bravery,” Higgins said. “We all should show bravery through any circumstance we face, whether it is minimal or extreme, in the battle of life or in a football game.”
Massey said veterans have always been important to him, noting that his father was a veteran of the Korean War. Massey also had several uncles who served in the Vietnam War.
“When I got the commission to do this, the committee wanted me to do a bench,” Massey said. He said that as he began working on the 8-foot piece of wood that weighed 4,800-to-5,000 pounds and had been the top of the tree, “it just fell in two pieces.
“I just hung my head and said, ‘How am I going to fix this?’” I prayed a lot about it. I thought I had to get that thing back together, but I decided to do an abstract piece. I got an idea that was better than a bench.
“Veterans always want peace. I wanted something that would show the number of students that were lost,
so I did 46 cuts” along the inside of the large ring, Massey said.
“Then I wanted to honor the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, so I carved five large rings representing the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. I wanted something a little bit more than a bench,” Massey said, smiling. “Veterans are close to my heart.
“I hope you enjoy the memorial. I hope for years to come that those who see this will remember.”