Sculpture memorializes student, seeks to inspire others

April 7, 2011

Jack Fox nearly gave up on a sculpture he was commissioned to design in memory of an Indiana State University student.

At first, the project attracted little interest from fabricators of the acrylic panels Fox envisioned for the piece. A small company in Dallas that counts an artist among its owners ultimately agreed to do the work but then a key employee died.

"I almost threw in the towel," Fox said.

But the 1993 Indiana State graduate couldn't give up. After all, the sculpture is intended to inspire others to persevere, and so persevere Fox did. Six months after the latest in a series of setbacks, and more than 18 months after Fox began work on the sculpture; "The Fire Within" hangs from the ceiling of the main entryway of ISU's Student Recreation Center.

The sculpture will be unveiled at 4 p.m. Friday, April 15 in honor of Stephen Kennedy of El Cajon, Calif., who came to Indiana State because of its internationally recognized athletic training program. Kennedy collapsed while working as a volunteer trainer at a Sycamore football game in 2000, his sophomore year, and later died at an Indianapolis hospital.

It was the first game Kennedy worked as a trainer, recalled Jeff Harper, a professor in Indiana State's Scott College of Business who served as head coach of the club soccer team on which Kennedy participated.

"My son, Billy, was Stephen's roommate and Stephen was a regular fixture in our house. He came by that afternoon and told my wife he'd been having bad headaches. She talked him into going to the emergency room where he waited and waited. Worried about being late to the stadium, he walked out of the emergency room and went to the game," Harper said.

Kennedy had a "buoyant personality" and was an outstanding athlete, Harper said, part of a special group of soccer players who led the team to wins over Purdue and Illinois and to the conference championship game against Michigan - all in their freshman year.

"Stephen was a very special individual to many people. We had a memorial service in Terre Haute that was attended by more than 300 people, which is some indicator of the number of people he touched and his quality as an individual," Harper said.

A memorial fund was established and a student recreation field on the northeast edge of the ISU campus was dedicated in Kennedy's memory, but Harper, appointed custodian of the fund by the ISU Foundation, felt more needed to be done.

When the university's new Student Recreation Center began taking shape a few years ago, Harper suggested the funds be used for artwork in the facility where thousands of students live life to the fullest as Kennedy did. It is also a facility devoted to club sports, such as the soccer team on which Kennedy played, rather than intercollegiate competition. Then-ISU President Lloyd Benjamin, an art historian, supported the project.

It was Fox who came up with the concept for "The Fire Within," after hearing Harper describe Kennedy's love of life, outward personality and competitive desire.

"He had a real passion for whatever he did and he wanted to do it very well," Harper said. "I think Jack captured that in the idea for the flame that burns inside of us - this passion that we have to compete."

Fox, calling himself "more of a painter than a sculptor," initially considered a painting to hang on an interior wall of the Student Recreation Center, but shifted toward a sculpture upon discovering the open-concept of the building offered few interior walls on which to display a painting.

"As we talked to John Lentz (director of recreational sports) and a few others, we just kind of landed on the idea of a hanging sculpture. As I was looking at the space in the entryway that's long and high, I thought we needed something that would fill the space but not overtake it," Fox said.

With the artwork intended to reflect amateur athletics, the acrylic panels Fox designed symbolize both the Olympic flame and the torch from Indiana State's seal.

"The torch handle is about 10 feet long and the flames are Sycamore leaves. The pieces appear to be floating together. They're not one solid form," he said.

Dozens of small mirrors mounted inside the panels create the torch's flame by reflecting the building's existing halogen lights.

Those who knew Kennedy agree "The Fire Within" is a fitting tribute to the memory of a passionate young man - a tribute that will also serve as inspiration to current and future students.

"The rec center really has changed the culture of campus and this just kind of puts a cap on the whole thing," said Lentz. "The idea of the flames being made of sycamore leaves, that's huge. This gives us a lot more school spirit, a lot more of the feel that this is Indiana State University and the energy that we've seen in this facility."

Photos: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/1243445672_HAQoR-L.jpg - Indiana State University alumnus Ezra Birt created this image of "The Fire Within."

http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/1243445668_gEcMY-L-1.jpg - "The Fire Within," a sculpture designed by Indiana State University alumnus Jack Fox, is scheduled to be dedicated at 4 p.m. Friday in the ISU Student Recreation Center.

Contact: Jeff Harper, director and professor, Graduate and Professional Programs, Scott College of Business, Indiana State University, and custodian, Stephen Kennedy Memorial Fund, 812-237-2002 or jeff.harper@indstate.edu

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu