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ISSUE 117 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 10/3/2003

Every life remembered

By Emelie Heltsley
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 3, 2003

After Sunday’s morning worship service, parents, students, and alumni gathered at the new Memorial Chime Tower for an emotional dedication ceremony.

Twenty-five families of students who died while at St. Olaf came for the dedication. The service itself included Scripture reading, prayers, the raising of the chimes, and a final hymn, "Beautiful Savior." The chimes are tuned to different notes in Beautiful Savior, the college’s signature hymn. Campus Pastor Bruce Benson said, "It was as if the chimes were singing the final hymn with us."

The Memorial Chime Tower was in the works for over two years. Dean of Students Greg Kneser remembers that the SGA gave $5,000 to start the project in June 2002. Inside the tower hang 109 chimes, each imprinted with the name of a student who passed away during their time at St. Olaf.

Through the dedication service, Benson wanted to "hold two communities together- the families of the students who died and the St. Olaf community." He wanted to "pay attention to the structure in such as way that it could serve both past memory and life now."

Despite cold and windy weather, parents and relatives were, as one parent put it, "overcome" by the whole service. After the service, many family members could only say, "This is wonderful- thank you very much," but to Benson and Kneser those short comments spoke volumes.

"For them," Kneser said, "It’s that people still remember their son or daughter. Someone else in the world has not forgotten them."

Benson remembers one mother who looked up at the memorial and said, "It moves and it makes noise- it’s just right."

For Kneser, the most meaningful part of the dedication ceremony was seeing the families who came back, some for the first time since the death of their St. Olaf student. Kneser was also taken aback by the beauty and magnitude of the finished product.

"I painted about half the names on the chimes, and I remember what parts of the tower I built," he said. "I feel like I’m looking at my own kid and saying, ‘Gosh, you’re beautiful!’ But I was just… overcome by the beauty." During Kneser’s 14 years at St. Olaf, 18 students have died.

Benson remembered looking into the crowd during the singing of "Beautiful Savior," and not seeing one dry eye; he had to look away to get through the song. Benson had known over 20 of the students remembered on Sunday.

Benson and Kneser, along with 12 other faculty and staff from St. Olaf, were able to help with the building of the Memorial. They mentioned the amazing experience of actually cutting the wood for the tower and using their hands to create something to give back to parents of the students who died.

Kneser used the phrase "a gift" to describe the happenings on Sunday. The memorial was a gift back to the families who, in a sense, "gave" their children to St. Olaf. "The last memories these kids had;" said Kneser, "some of the best memories of their lives, happened right here."

Benson compared the dedication ceremony to a marriage ceremony. "Yes, the ceremony is beautiful and important, but the most important parts are the years that follow."

He wants the college "to accept as appropriate the fact that the memorial is in the middle of campus." The tower will meet his highest expectations, Benson said, if "it can be a reminder of the preciousness of life" through the years.

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