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Chief among the beauties attached to the Walk of the Heroines is its name.
Because women by and large don’t think of themselves as heroic. Rearing children, caring for parents and partners, working a job or building a business — women often just call it life.
The Walk, however, offers a beautiful counterargument: Women struggle in life, bringing out quiet, usually overlooked triumphs, and that constitutes heroism, too.
At one end, the exuberant waters of the Fountain in Honor of Mothers unabashedly pay tribute to life’s wellspring, and kids can splash around in the display. At the other, a stage featuring a sculpture of the female form.
Near the fountain, a kiosk presents a computer where a visitor can look up a heroine’s name and read her story.
“One reason for this park is to pay tribute to women for overcoming challenges that most of us take for granted and don’t see as the big challenges they are, requiring incredible capabilities,” says Johanna Brenner, one of the creators of the Walk of the Heroines.
The June 5 celebration that served as the official presentation of the walk culminated 13 years of work by Brenner and two more PSU colleagues, Sherwin Davidson and Jan Haaken.
“This is worth asserting: It’s not a memorial,” says Davidson, chairwoman of the applied psychology department. “It’s for the future, and it’s honoring women who have passed as well as those who are alive. The intent, with the kiosk there, is to keep the stories alive.”
In 1998, the three women envisioned an “education park” to redefine heroism, to celebrate women individually and generally and to generate fresh thinking about women’s lives.
PSU donated the land in what Haaken puckishly calls the cleavage between the science buildings and the athletic field. To build the walk, the women raised nearly $3 million from foundations and individuals.
Al Jubitz, president of the Jubitz Family Foundation, personally contributed to honor women who had made a difference in his life, among them his mother, Jane Lueddemann Ehrman, Dr. Alice Armstrong and Nancy Russell, founder of Friends of the Columbia Gorge.
“The more I learn, the more I understand that the privilege of male America in this time period is so great that my life has been relatively easy compared to female Americans at this time,” he says.
“Most men don’t think about it. I have thought about it, through my leadership training, and I realized that with a great privilege comes great responsibility to elevate others. And when others are women, that’s great.”
Glitches along the way delayed the project; even on opening day, the computer in the kiosk didn’t work. Now, though, “every time I go into the space, I get to witness something wonderful,” Davidson says.
Haaken says that she has found the Walk of the Heroines to be “one big Rorschach card” — people look at the space and read things into it. “It’s been interesting to see what it stirs for people.”
PSU’s Women, Gender and Sexuality Program will take over the care of the Walk of the Heroines, and program Chairwoman Sally McWilliams says the next step is to raise money to establish a named lecture series.
Haaken says that from the start, the word “heroine” was going to be in the name.
“It had a kind of noble thrust to it from the very beginning. What sustains people over time? What’s vital for the survival of the group? What’s vital for the aspirations of the group? Heroine had that grand aspect.”