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Memorial park on Athens Campus moving to a new home

Construction on Phase I of Ohio University’s Housing Development Plan has necessitated the relocation of a small park on the Athens Campus that was created as a tribute to an OHIO graduate responsible for many landscaping efforts at the University over a more than 30-year period.

Carper Park

Carper Park is seen to the left of the construction site and in front of Nelson Commons in this aerial photo taken in June 2013. Photo by Terry Baxter-Potter

As part of the Phase A sweep, Carper Park, which was located off Race Street just west of Nelson Commons, has been removed and will be relocated to an area at the bottom of Morton Hill near Tiffin Hall on East Green.

The park was originally conceived, designed, funded and built by those employed in the University’s Facilities Department to honor the late George Carper, an OHIO alumnus who operated a nursery in nearby Meigs County and who, as an independent contractor, was responsible for several landscaping projects on the Athens Campus.

A 1948 graduate of Ohio University and a World War II veteran, Carper and his wife, Peg, founded George CarperCarper’s Nursery in Pomeroy, Ohio, in 1951. Over the course of the next 30-plus years, Carper received numerous landscaping contracts on the Athens Campus, where he not only beautified his alma mater but also mentored many young landscapers.

Susan Calhoun, who has served as the landscape coordinator for OHIO’s Grounds Department since 1994, first met Carper in the 1980s as an undergraduate at the University.

“While I was a student, I worked on the side landscaping,” Calhoun explained. “George befriended and helped me learned the trade of landscaping. I was fortunate to meet four individuals in Athens – all affiliated with Ohio University – who were mentors and fatherly figures. George Carper, among that group, stands out as a unique individual. He was a teacher, mentor and friend to myself and many young landscapers in the area and was known throughout Southeastern Ohio.”

According to Calhoun, in addition to helping the University’s Grounds Department procure plant material, Carper was involved in the planting of some of the cherry trees that run along the Hocking River on the Athens Campus. One of his last projects at the University was landscaping outside of Gordy Hall following a renovation in 1996-97.

“George had such a long history here,” Calhoun said. “George had planted so many trees and other plant material on this campus and I would pick his brain any time we were together. I’d say, ‘George, what about that plant over there, what about this tree?’ And he could tell you everything about it.”

Carper passed away in March 2000 at the age of 76. In 2004, OHIO’s Grounds Department built Carper Park.

Carper Park-student workers

From left, Will Dickerson and Pete Finney, members of the Student Landscape Crew, work in Carper Park in this photo taken in the summer of 2010. Photo by Susan Calhoun

“It was a way to honor George and his contribution to these beautiful grounds as well as the mentoring he did,” explained Calhoun. She credited Mark Whitney, OHIO’s formers grounds director, and Jeff White, a former South/East Green grounds supervisor who had also been mentored by Carper, with much of the planning and designing that went into the park.

Carper Park was oval in shape with benches outlining the oval and a sidewalk running through it. It featured shrubs, perennials and an annual bed as well as trees, including a stunning weeping red bud tree at the center of the park. It also featured beautiful brickwork, all laid by individuals employed in the University’s Carpenter Shop who also set the park’s benches.

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Members of George Carper’s family gather in June 2005 for the dedication of a park named in his honor. They are (clockwise, from left) Summer Carper, George’s granddaughter; Dawn Miller, George’s daughter; Jon Halar, George’s grandson; George Carper, George’s son; Michael Halar, George’s son-in-law; Marjorie Mora, George’s granddaughter; Dr. Wendy Halar, George’s daughter; and Peg Carper, George’s wife. Photo courtesy of the Carper Family

Carper Park was officially dedicated in June 2005 when many members of the Carper Family were in the area to attend the wedding of Carper’s granddaughter, Marjorie Mora.

An Ohio University alumna who is now employed as a project analyst with OHIO’s Division of Finance and Administration, Mora has fond memories of her grandfather and was inspired by him to work in the University’s Grounds Department when she was a student.

“I think my grandfather would have really liked Carper Park,” Mora said. “He was very modest, so he wouldn’t have wanted anyone to go through so much trouble for him, but he would have been touched.”

Because her grandfather helped with planting the cherry trees along the Hocking River, Mora said she takes her children there every spring when the trees bloom for family photos and a picnic to remember her grandfather. Last year’s harsh winter resulted in the trees not blooming last spring, so Mora said the family decided to go to Carper Park instead.

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Brody and Sydney Mora, the children of Marjorie Mora and the great-grandchildren of George Carper, are seen with a plaque at Carper Park last Easter. The plaque reads: “Carper Park in honor of George Carper. Alumnus, nursery man, and landscaper who was responsible for many of the landscape plantings at Ohio University from the 1950’s through the 1990’s.” Photo courtesy of the Carper Family

Planning for the relocation of Carper Park is underway.

“We were trying to figure out how we could lift the plants in the park and move them to the new location,” Calhoun said. “It’s kind of risky, so we decided to start anew.”

According to Calhoun, the new Carper Park will be more sustainable with low maintenance plant material and more of a native palette. Calhoun said that over the winter break members of the Grounds Department dug up most of the plant material in the park and transplanted it to other locations around campus to improve existing landscapes.

Calhoun said the park’s new location is ideal because it’s adjacent to a high-traffic area and will provide a place to sit and rest in the shade. She added that the new park will have a similar layout and format with a curved shape and benches.