Many students walk through the garden on the south side of Newcomer without a second thought. The garden is tucked away behind a wall, in between the communication wing and the rest of Newcomer Center. But for one man, the garden is deeply important.Ervin Beck taught English at Goshen College for over 30 years, retiring in 2003. He is the primary caretaker of the garden.
“I come here almost every day,” Beck said. “Just to do a little bit of work.”
Beck speaks in a gentle voice, choosing his words carefully and thoughtfully. Similarly, no aspects of the garden, it seems, go unnoticed or unappreciated by him.
“There’s a means to an end in this work,” he said. “It’s a thing of beauty.”
The space was designed by Jon Cutrell in 1986 at the request of a former dean, H. S. Bender, who wanted a cloister garden next to, what was at the time, the seminary. Cloister gardens originated in Europe and are often enclosed by walls to promote a better space for meditation.
“There was nothing else here,” Beck said. “It was just flat. So it was logical to put a garden in. And Jon Cutrell is a brilliant landscape architect. This was one of his early works.”
The garden is dedicated to Beck and his wife Phyllis’ two children, who died of leukemia at ages 9 and 15. They are honored with a plaque located on the garden’s south wall. After their deaths, some family friends surprised the Becks with a fund for a memorial, which became the garden.
“The memorial gives me motivation,” Beck said. “There’s meaning through that and it’s a public service for the campus to make it look nice.”
In addition to appreciating the memorial to his children, Beck finds meaning in seeing how the garden is used by members of the community.
“A lot more people walk through here [since the Center for Communication studies’ creation],” said Beck. “It’s much more used, which I’m pleased by. It should be used.”
Passing by on the way to classes in Newcomer isn’t the only way the Goshen College students take advantage of the garden. The Globe’s radio studio features a set of three, large windows that look out on the garden which provides arguably the most picturesque view for any radio host in the nation.
“It’s great to look at during a shift,” said Dante Stanton, the sports director for Globe media. “It’s a great environment and it’s just really peaceful.”
But it’s not just Goshen College faculty and students who use it. Members of the Goshen community can often be found in the garden, relaxing and enjoying the space.
“The other day I came here and there was a man sitting here playing his guitar and singing,” Beck said. “So I got to listen to his music while I planted.”
Ervin Beck also noted the number of young children who frequent the garden with their parents.
“There are kids who keep coming back, asking their parents to come,” Beck said. “They like to see the pool. One girl I showed how to skim stuff off the water and she kept coming back and doing it herself. People take ownership. I’m pleased by that.”
“Kids come and throw stones in the pool but I don’t mind,” he added. “I want kids to come”
While it is clear that Goshen College values the space, the future of the garden is unknown.
“The problem is what’s going to happen when I can’t do this anymore,” Beck said. “I hope the garden lasts forever.”
For Beck, the history of the garden is as important as its future. The people who were instrumental in making the garden a possibility are not forgotten.
“I think [Dean] H.S. Bender would like it,” Beck said. “I guess I’m also doing this for him. And for all the students here.”