The Trials, Tribulations, and Joys of Building A Memorial

Over the past 11 months I have been working on the construction of a memorial for the late Coach Kay Yow.  Before I delve in and say anything else regarding the project, I have learned so much from working on it, many lessons I’ll never forget.

Now that is said and done, the memorial was truly a wonderful experience which is not quite over… If you are unfamiliar with who Coach Kay Yow is, you must have been living under a rock, but if you really don’t know, just check out her Wikipedia page for the gist of her legacy.  She was the coach of NC State women’s basketball team for 34 years.  Of those 34 years, she spent 22 battling breast cancer.  You can see the long list of honors and awards she received on her Wikipedia or by visiting her WBCA bio, here.

How It All Began

Last year, when I was contacted about becoming our student athletics director at NC State, the current student body president asked me if I would be interested in constructing a memorial for Coach Yow and if I thought it would be a feasible thing that students would want to see done.  Sure, it shouldn’t be too hard to honor someone who meant so much to so many, plus, our student body loved her.  So that day in July 2009 I said yes to taking on one of the biggest projects I have ever worked on.

I gathered my thoughts and came up with a few ideas over the next couple weeks.  I knew it was going to be a large task, so I wanted to get my thoughts together before I did anything.  Then, the first thing I wanted to do was find out some more about her from the people closest to her, so I ventured my way over to the Women’s Basketball Office in Reynolds to see what I could find out, also, I wanted to see if they would help.  I remember the first thing that happened when I walked in the door to that office and told the office admin (who is an extremely sweet and amazing lady) what I was doing… I was on the receiving end of a tearful bear hug.  At that moment, I realized how much this memorial was going to mean.  I had never had the fortune to meet, Coach Yow, one thing that I wish I could have done, so to see first hand how much she touched the lives of those who worked alongside her was special to pushing me to another level in my quest for the memorial to be completed.  One other pleasant surprise that I did get during my visit was finding out that someone had already contacted the office about wanting to construct a memorial and wanting to make a large donation to it.   Great start right off the bat!

Over the upcoming weeks I formulated a plan to construct a memorial honoring Coach Yow in the form of a statue at the entrance to Reynolds Coliseum.  Only the best for the best I thought.  I spoke with a sculptor, who was recommended by the family, and he loved the idea (of course).  So I set about having him draw up some sketches of the statue as I got to work contacting the university’s architect office to find out what I needed to do on their end.  We worked originally to see how it would turn out with the location I had in mind and how we could fit it in with the current landscape.

The Wrench

All was going smooth at the start until the snag came in.  Someone in the upper levels at NC State was not too keen having a looming statue at the entrance to Reynolds.  So…the brakes were applied to the project.  We had to find some other place to put it.  Where else would be a good spot for a larger than life statue to go at Reynolds?  One side is a giant parking lot, the two ends are roads with minimal walk space, and the other side was a walkway by Talley.  Naturally I figured the Talley side would work, and naturally the architect’s office wanted to put it on the parking lot side.  Once more we came to a halt.  Neither side wanted to budge.  So we compromised.  The statue shrank in size to a bust and it was moved to a more prominent location on the Talley side of Reynolds.

This is when the idea for the memorial expanded into the Coaches’ Corner theme.  How could we build one memorial for one coach at a place where several coaching greats had prowled the sidelines?  What about Jimmy V (a national champ), Norm Sloan (another national champ), and Everett Case (grandfather of southern basketball)?  They all stalked the sidelines and produced fabled teams who played in Reynolds.  We must surely honor them as well.  So the idea for a Kay Yow Memorial expanded into the Coaches Corner.  Located on the Talley side of Reynolds, the Coaches’ Corner will play home to the busts of great coaches in NC State history.  However, Kay Yow would be the first and the host.

A settlement had been reached, and approved through all the necessary channels.  As you can imagine, some people were not too happy with the end result, but I believe that it worked out for the best.  Coach Yow would be honored, as well as other great coaches in our history who rightfully should be honored as well.***On a side note, the Coaches’ Corner got me to thinking.  Don’t you find it a bit odd that our great coaches in Reynolds develop some sort of cancer?  Case, Valvano, and Yow? *** Now came the time to get together all the details of design and get to work!

I worked with the architect’s office to finalize a design for the garden while working with the sculptor to design the bust.  Once most of that was completed I got in touch with Coach Yow’s family to let them know what was going on and to show them what we had planned.  Family approval was very important to me.  After I received the go ahead from them, the fund-raising commenced.

This is the Action

As I mentioned earlier, fund-raising got off to a great start.  To me, the key thing we needed to do to raise funds was marketing the project and contacting former players and fans.  So a wrote a nice solicitation letter, requested info on all of Coach Yow’s former players, and then decided to do something which took forever.  I hand addressed the letters in calligraphy.  At first, I thought, no way am I going to be able to write calligraphy.  When I was growing up, my parents would ride me about how terrible my handwriting looked, but to my surprise, my calligraphy turned out pretty well, other than taking an excruciating amount of patience and time.  After I mailed out the letters to former players, fellow students and I sold t-shirts, some donated by Nike and others ordered by us (which are still available for purchase), at basketball games and in the Brickyard.

We also stuffed hundreds of envelopes with general letters, return envelopes, donor info cards, etc to be mailed out to season ticket holders.  Thankfully we didn’t have to address those, as Athletics just ran them through the machine.  We also got our very own Kay Yow Memorial webpage from NC State and we got it up and running with the help of an amazing and beautiful webmaster (my girlfriend).

The money came in through spurts.  We’d get a few donations here and there.  It would slow down, I’d make some phone calls, we would get some press, then we would get a few more donations.  Finally after what seemed like waiting forever, which was actually just a few months, we had enough to begin construction in March 2010.  So with the assistance of our construction manager from the university, contractors were finalized and the job began.  First off was the memorial garden.  We dug out a walkway, installed a drainage system, and laid a stone paved walkway and seating area (formed by the bottom side of recycled granite counter-tops).

Then came the planting.  On Saturday, April 17th at 8am (yes before the Spring Kay Yow Football Game), around 20 students showed up to plant the garden.  Oh how sweet it was to see signs of life in the project site!  It was all coming together in front of my eyes and I couldn’t believe it!  As that finished I just stood back in amazement of how great it looked.  Pink flowering plants forming a boundary around the beautiful stone paved walkway with two benches on which to relax and reflect.  Just one thing missing, the most important piece, Coach Yow’s bust and pedestal.

The Last Piece is Sometimes the Hardest

We had the garden planted with the walkway paved; it had to be all downhill from here.  Wrong.  Little did I know that our contractor for the pedestal would end up making things much more complicated than they needed to be.  Let’s just say that he was not exactly the nicest person and wasn’t doing the memorial work for the right reasons.  Up to that point, every contractor had been honored to be a part of constructing a memorial for Coach Yow.  They would give us their best price and their best work.  That went for everyone except one person.  His original estimate for the pedestal came in WAY over what we estimated it would cost, so after a long series of negotiations and threats to use another contractor he dropped $4,000 off the cost.  Now why it was that high to begin with, I don’t know.  Every other contractor had given us their bottom line cost the first go round, so I had a bad feeling about this guy from the start, but we needed to go with him because the sculptor for the bust always used him.  He later showed his true colors after the memorial was done, but I won’t go into specifics about the trouble he gave me and others at the university.  Let’s just say that he won’t be doing any business with the university ever again.  Finally we had everything figured out and construction of the pedestal got underway as the bronzing of the bust wrapped up.

Finally we reached the day where the pedestal and bust were to be installed.  The project was almost completed.  Myself and a few donors met out at the memorial site and watched as the memorial was installed.  First the pedestal and then the bust.  I couldn’t believe that it was finally done, except for the plaque, but that’s the easy part.  Right before my very eyes all of the hard work and perseverance since last year was paying off.

All that’s left now is to install the plaque, which we’ll do closer to the dedication date, and host the formal dedication of the memorial.  So go ahead and mark your calendars for August 24, 2010 at 3pm.  We’ll be having a formal dedication for the NC State Coaches’ Corner – Kay Yow Memorial with (99% sure) speaking appearances from Chancellor Woodson, AD Debbie Yow, and more.  The dedication shouldn’t last more than an hour though.  The area isn’t very large, so there won’t be much room for chairs, except for the people who have to sit.  All donors, family and friends of Coach Yow, and most importantly, students of NC State, are invited to attend.  We’ll officially unveil the memorial with the newly installed plaque on the front.

Final Thoughts

Even though the project had its up and downs, I could not have asked for a better experience.  The people involved with the project were so awesome that even the downs weren’t really that down at all.  I learned many important lessons that will stay with me through life, most importantly perseverance and compromise.  We all know the famous Jimmy V, don’t ever give up, quote, but it really is true.  When something is important to you, you have to keep pushing.  The more you push, the more that wall will cave and eventually you’ll push through it.  It’s like Randy Pausch said in The Last Lecture, “Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people.”  I’d like to think that I was meant to be the one to push through those brick walls.

After the formal dedication I’ll post a more complete version of my finals thoughts since there is still some work to do, but for the meantime, it has truly been a rewarding experience.


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