Two young people have a presence on the Goshen College campus despite the fact that they never had a chance to attend classes here, as leukemia took their lives over 30 years ago. Their father, Ervin Beck, a former English professor, can often be found tending to the garden that was established as a memorial for the two children, Joel and Sarah.The memorial garden, located behind the Newcomer Center, is a shady, quiet and comfortable space in which to relax, do homework or eat lunch. The garden is visible when you enter through the back entrance of Newcomer or look through the large glass windows in the lounge area.
In 2016, Goshen College established the garden as a memorial for the two children of Ervin and Phyllis Beck. Joel died in 1973 at the age of 8 and Sarah died in 1985 at the age of 15. Once the couple was told not to have children again, they adopted twins, William and Clarissa. A group of the Beck’s family friends put together a fund that helped them begin building the garden.
Jon Cutrell, the master planner of the Calendar Garden in Elkhart County, designed the layout for the memorial garden back in 1987. The garden embraces a unique Japanese design, which traditionally includes stones and a waterway, though no water runs through the waterway. However, there is running water where the small fountain shoots out into a small pond and cycles back through endlessly.
Limestone benches surround the fountain and the largest tree in the garden, whose thick trunk is wound in ivy, provides plenty of shade to that area. Bordering the garden are brick walls that have organized openings to allow for airflow. More bricks were put down on the ground to create a winding path through the garden, which leads to the entrance for the Goshen College archive building.
“The design is solid,” Ervin Beck said. “It’s never going to fade away. It’s a good place to sit and have your lunch or just sit and think. There’s running water and there’s always a nice view.”
This green space on campus is not a flower garden, especially given the fact that the lack of sunlight makes it hard for flowers to even bloom. Despite working on it over the summer, many of the plants need major replanting because the soil and the ground dry so quickly. Beck thinks very few birds fly in and out of the garden because of the lack of berry trees. The garden also includes the tulip poplar tree, a favorite of Thomas Jefferson’s, that generally has thin trunks and branches that grow full of leaves.
Beck, the 80-year-old groundskeeper for the garden, gets some help from the Physical Plant but has never hired a professional landscaper.
“I’m not really a gardener,” he said. “I just keep things going.”
As a place at the southern edge of the college, the garden serves the campus as a hidden gem.
Students eager for new locations to focus and study have an option in the memorial garden.
“Having a quiet place to study or relax is always welcome,” said first-year Nathan Pauls.
For Beck, the garden means a great deal.
“It’s personal,” he said. “It’s a place we have great affection for. It’s very meaningful to us.”
And in that regard, the garden still shows signs of life, regardless of the season, even as fall moves toward winter.