A memorial garden for UConn student Andry Evangelista, who passed away in the summer of 2020, has recently been planted outside the Peter J. Werth Residence Tower, which houses the learning community where Evangelista was a member.
The garden was a true collaborative effort between various members of the University community, including students and faculty of Public Health House; students and faculty in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources’ (CAHNR) landscape architecture program; University Planning, Design and Construction and Facilities Operations at UConn; and Newman Architects, the firm that originally designed Werth Tower and the surrounding landscape design.
Evangelista was a member of Public Heath House during his first two years at UConn, and then became a student leader of that group as he entered his junior year. He passed away in a drowning accident during the summer of 2020.
“Andry had this old, quiet spirit, and when he spoke he had amazing things to say – even as a first-semester freshman,” says Jaci VanHeest, an associate professor of educational psychology and the faculty director of Public Health House since 2010. “I always thought that this young man was going to go such a long way, because he had a gift of empathy. I think he learned a lot of life lessons early, and his peers truly gravitated to him as someone who was an outstanding friend.”
Soon after his passing, a memorial bench was dedicated to Evangelista at the Werth Tower, but the students of Public Health House wanted to do more. They came up with the concept of a garden, because of Evangelista’s love of the outdoors, and because there were already garden beds outside of Werth Tower. Student leader Alexa Sanson ’22 (CLAS) represented Public Health House in advocating for the project.
“The Learning Community program has a history of engaging with campus gardening projects which helped inform who we approached to partner with us on this idea,” says Melissa Foreman, the director of learning communities at UConn, who coordinated a campus-wide effort to make the garden a reality. “EcoHouse students helped with the installation of UConn’s first green roof on the Gant Science Complex plaza. We collaborated with Residential Life and Dining Services to launch Spring Valley Student Farm, an extension of EcoHouse.”
Landscape architecture student and EcoHouse founding class member Tanner Burgdorf ’13 (CAHNR) designed and installed of a permaculture knot garden, which is still in existence in front of Whitney Hall.
Foreman worked with Sohyun Park, an assistant professor in plant science and landscape architecture, and a contest was developed for students to design the garden in Evangelista’s memory.
“Dr. Park’s class works with clients to put landscape designs together, and we were the client,” says Foreman. “Students who knew Andry joined me and Dr. VanHeest, and we presented Andry’s story to the landscape architecture class. Peter Newman of Newman Architects, who had recently won a national award for a peace garden design, also joined to share expertise with students. They put together designs for a garden that would best commemorate Andry based on what his friends shared about his personal interests – his favorite colors and what he was passionate about.”
Two winning designs, created by students Tara Sweeney ’24 (CAHNR) and Brian Garzon ’24 (CAHNR), were selected. The students and staff of UConn’s Spring Valley Student Farm, under farm manager Jessica Larkin-Wells, then went to work and selected a plant vendor and managed installation of the garden.
“I think Andry would have been thrilled to know that a group of students were asked to develop a design for a garden to remember him,” says VanHeest. “That is what we are all about – education. He made an impact on these young landscape architecture students. They learned how you manage the essence of what people told them about this young man.”
Foreman also credits University Landscape Architect Sean Vasington and Landscaping Manager Wes Ayers in supporting the project, sharing expertise, and preparing the beds for planting of the garden.
“Andry was this amazing young man,” says Foreman. “He was always present and was coming out of his shell. He volunteered to be a speaker at a spring Learning Community tradition, LC Talks, a TED Talk-like event, delivering an impactful speech entitled ‘Erasing the Lines of Introvert and Extrovert.’ Every time I would pass him going up and down the hill to Werth Tower, he would always smile and greet me. He was lovely young person.”
VanHeest says the location of the garden is perfect: not only was Evangelista a resident of the Werth Tower, but the garden also overlooks the track at the Sherman Family Sports Complex. Evangelista was an avid runner.
“Even in death, Andry has become someone who is really integral to who we are as a learning community,” says VanHeest. “He was a leader, a great friend, and he challenged himself to take risks. All those things are the essence of a learning community.”