The place where it all began likely won’t be the place where the international phenomenon known as the Relay For Life will be commemorated.
And that’s not a good thing.
It was both logical and appropriate for a sculpture and marker telling the story of Dr. Gordon Klatt’s inspiration to be near the track at the University of Puget Sound’s Baker Stadium.
In 1985, Klatt combined his profession with his passion — using a 24-hour run and walk around the track as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. What Klatt began has become the cancer society’s premier fundraising event, spreading from Tacoma to 5,200 communities in the U.S. and 900 others worldwide.
More than $5 billion has been raised for research and cancer-patient support. The Tacoma event moved from UPS to Stadium Bowl, where it was held for years. It is now run at Mount Tahoma Stadium.
Harvey Rosen is both a UPS alumnus, cancer society volunteer and longtime friend of Klatt’s. He leads a committee that raised nearly $115,000 to cover the purchase of the sculpture honoring Klatt, to create a marker to tell the story and to mount both just inside the Baker Stadium’s gates by September.
There are reasons for haste. Klatt, a prominent colorectal surgeon credited with treating innumerable cancer patients, is into the third year of his own battle with stomach cancer.
But it now appears that UPS will not be the location for Klatt’s sculpture.
A review group at UPS chose an artist after an open competition but then decided not to complete that commission. Another artist was chosen by UPS — Julie Speidel of Vashon Island — but Rosen’s committee thinks her proposal is too similar to other work she has done. And Rosen said he didn’t think UPS was open to the committee’s feelings.
“There was no involvement,” Rosen said of his committee’s role in the selection. “There was no other choice but the woman from Vashon.”
In a June 6 email to UPS, Rosen wrote: “After reviewing the proposal and the photos that were submitted by Julie Speidel, the committee along with a few of our major donors have found Julie’s proposed artwork is just not acceptable.” Then, in an email last week to UPS President Ronald Thomas, Rosen wrote: “At this point we are checking our options to locate different artwork in an appropriate spot in the Tacoma area.”
That different artwork could be an existing piece by Jeff Jolly of Seattle titled “Hands of God.” It is a six-foot-high globe that would be placed at the center of a round plaza with benches on its perimeter.
Rosen and his committee members have approached Metro Parks Tacoma about finding a site on the Ruston Way waterfront. And they still hope, despite the setbacks, to dedicate it in September.
The waterfront is certainly a more visible location. But despite the recent influx of statues and memorials on the waterfront, the state’s shorelines are legally restricted to water-dependent, water-related or water-enjoyment uses.
Besides, historic markers need a sense of place — to show people not just what happened but where it happened.
Thomas and UPS aren’t giving up, however, and that’s a good thing. In a response to Rosen, he said the university wants to search for a solution.
“We very much wanted (and want) to work with you and the (cancer society) on this project. It is a wonderful, inspired project and by its nature a complicated one,” Thomas wrote. While he said he endorses the recommendation of Speidel’s sculpture, calling it a “compelling and appropriate work,” Thomas wrote that the university is “ready to work with the committee if you have a change of heart.”
While Thomas’ letter wasn’t specific, UPS spokeswoman Shirley Skeel said the school would consider other artists and other artwork.
If the decision by Rosen and his committee is final, however, the university thinks the first Relay For Life still should be recognized where it happened.
Concluded Thomas: “We may proceed in any event with the installation at our own expense of a plaque on the site to recognize the historical significance of what started here.”