“I long wanted something there, but didn’t know what.”
That dilemma has been resolved.
The brass sculpture to be installed will feature a life-size figure, kneeling with hand extended, at a boulder on which visitors can sit.
“The servant is kneeling in that circle and basically facing the library,” Nikkel said about the memorial’s orientation.
In the figure’s peripheral vision will be a 10-foot cross, suspended 2 feet and draped by fabric that will anchor the cross to the base, he said, adding that a dove will rest on the cross.
“You can use (the sculpture) for contemplation and meditation and receiving,” Nikkel said. “It’s symbolic—receiving God’s gift, God’s grace, whatever it is.”
Surrounding the sculpture and written on plaques will be: names of all Tabor presidents and their years of service; the college’s mission statement, “Preparing people for a life of learning, work and service for Christ and his kingdom;” and the verse Mark 10:45, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The artist, internationally recognized sculptor Sandra Storm, a 1965 Tabor alum, works from her studio in Merritt Island, Fla. She has completed numerous major monumental sculptures, including the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Civil Rights Memorial in Viera, Fla., and the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial in Kissimmee, Fla.
“I’m thrilled that I get to do my first religious memorial (at Tabor),” Storm said in a phone interview. “Over 20 years I’ve been doing memorials, and for a long time wanted to do a religious one. There’s just not the opportunities to do them.”
Storm was chosen after a faculty team—Sheila Schmitt, Shin-hee Chin and Dave Faber—researched and prioritized a list of candidates.
“I had pretty much decided I was going to stop (making large memorials) and do something religious, possibly whether I could get a commission or not,” Storm said. “Just after that, I got the call from Sheila Schmitt and (President) Nikkel. I was just so amazed and excited about doing that there.”
Installation for “Called to Serve” is scheduled for mid-September.
From conception to completion, the evolution of Centennial Plaza has extended over at least a decade. The idea began to germinate when Nikkel took on the presidential role at Tabor in 1998.
“I think from the day I came to Tabor (as president) it was real clear to me that circle was, first of all, the most prime piece of real estate on campus,” Nikkel said.
From his perspective, Nikkel said, the empty spot was glaring.
While attending a Council for Christian Colleges & Universities event in Dallas, Texas, Nikkel saw a piece titled “The Divine Servant,” a life-size bronze of Jesus washing Peter’s feet. Replicas of the statue stand in churches and cemeteries, and on several campuses, including Greenville (Ill.) College and Sterling (Kan.) College.
In Dallas, he also met the artist, Max Greiner, who offered Nikkel a special deal—$50,000 excluding preparation and installation costs—for purchasing the piece.
“I showed it to the cabinet (of administrators) and they loved it,” Nikkel said.
He also presented the idea to Tabor’s board of directors.
“They liked it, but then there were two voices that in a very gentle way let me know that a copy of something really was not that special,” he said. “And if we could find original art, it would really be more special.”
Nikkel was disappointed because he thought the cost was affordable.
“I could raise money for it and we could get it done,” he said. “That would be great. I loved the theme.”
As celebration plans for the 100th anniversary of Tabor’s founding began to take shape, the cabinet agreed something needed to be done with the vacant circle lawn west of the Lohrenz building.
“This is the time,” Nikkel said. “We have to do something and to mark this as part of the centennial would be about right.”
He said the centennial committee agreed the idea should be pursued.
The task force of faculty, led by Schmitt, compiled a list of 20 possible sculptors and narrowed the list to four names.
Nikkel and wife Elaine visited the studios of the top two—brothers in Loveland, Colo.
“They’re just marvelous, just fabulous work,” Nikkel said. “We talked to both artists and they wouldn’t even talk beyond, ‘We can’t do it—we’re just too busy.’ Furthermore, I think they would have been very, very expensive.”
Sandra Strom was next on the list. Schmitt did some of the initial legwork, calling and talking to her. Schmitt discovered Storm had attended Tabor.
“When she was No. 3 on the list, we didn’t even know she was a Tabor alum,” Nikkel said. “She was thrilled to be talking about this.”
Ideas went back and forth between Storm and the committee, a process that began in 2006.
“She started out with a fountain—and we said, ‘No, no—that’s too good of an opportunity for pranks and breakage, and for winter when it freezes up and there’s leaves in the fountain,” Nikkel said.
“From the beginning, she knew we didn’t have an unlimited budget. But we started talking. Then she got excited about it.”
Before the contract was signed, Storm and her son came for a visit to campus.
“She was delighted to come,” Nikkel said. “She has relatives in Enid, Okla. That’s where her home was. She also has a Hillsboro connection.”
Storm also visited the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church Sunday morning.
“She just made a weekend of it and had a really wonderful time,” he added.
Nikkel said the centennial committee wanted the sculpture to symbolize the first 100 years of Tabor and something central to the college’s mission.
“The thing that we kept coming back to was this idea of service,” he said. “All the pastors, missionaries, Christian service workers, teachers, choir directors—everything. The common thread in there had to do with service.”
Besides Storm, others involved with the project have Tabor connections.
“Almost accidentally, a lot of Tabor alums are doing the project,” Nikkel said. “I thought that was pretty neat.”
Tabor graduate Al Vogts of Vogts Construction in Newton is doing the contract work, and Hillsboro native Gene Schellenberg, owner of Kansas Natural Stone in Wichita, is contributing flagstone for the top of the base.
Chad Jantz, a Tabor alum, and father Kirby of Heartstone Inc., a hardscape specialty company in Wichita, will make the pavers—engraved bricks that can honor friends and family members.
The plaza will have a total of 4,300 pavers, Nikkel said, adding he needs to sell 400 at a cost of $500 each. As of June, almost 170 bricks were sold.
The plaza will be dedicated Oct. 4, with plans to have all living past presidents attend, as well as family representatives from those deceased, Nikkel said.
According to Nikkel, cost of the plaza is about $150,000. After he returns from his most recent trip to Denver, Nikkel said he’ll continue to raise for the plaza.
“When I get back, I may have a lot of bricks to sell,” he said.