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Special Collections and Archives

Shirley Ohles -- Tape 30:A:2

Recorded May 2, 1990

Transcribed by Lisa Whalen and Kathleen S. Medicus

This is Shirley Ohles. I'm going to tell the story of the granite memorial marker in the Taylor Hall parking lot. My husband was involved in the placement of it there. He was John Ohles, who was a professor of secondary education at Kent State University, from 1966, until his retirement in 1985. He died in 1988. In 1984, he wrote the story of the marker for the Kent Stater. I will use part of that, although not reading from it, and then add other recollections of mine.

The history of it is that, in 1971, on May 4th, a small group of Kent State student members of the local Hillel chapter, under the direction of Rabbi Gerald Turk, who was the Jewish chaplain and director of Hillel, placed a small cast-aluminum plaque in the grassy circle that's in the middle of the Taylor Hall parking lot. The plaque said, "In living memory," and then listed the names of the four students. That referred to a tree that they had planted in that space. This aluminum plaque was not anchored. According to John, people frequently came, picked it up, and had their picture taken with it. In 1974, on the morning of May 4th, I was up in the parking lot, both of us were, we had always participated in the candlelight procession, and then stood vigil. And Rabbi Turk said to me, "Did you know that the plaque has disappeared?" I told John, and he followed through to find out more about it. It had been stolen. He thought that someone would do something about it, to replace it, but they didn't.

And so the next February, he sent out a letter, a notice, to selected members of the Kent State faculty, asking them to come to a meeting to make arrangements for the replacement of the marker. I don't know exactly how many people came to that, but from that, he did get a committee together, and they authorized him to go ahead with the replacement. And the aim was to replace it with something very permanent, that no one could take away again. Arrangements were made with the Portage Marble and Granite Company on Mantua Street, for a granite marker. And I will intersperse here and say that John signed the contract for that marker before any money came in. And as an aside, I was very happy when it did come in. The money came in slowly, there were notices sent to all faculty and staff. There was an article in the Akron Beacon Journal on April ninth, 1975, in a column by Richard Zithrum, where he told something about the efforts to get some money. And he quoted there Jerry Lewis, who was on the committee, as saying, "Commitee is actually a euphemism. John is the committee." This column brought in a few dollars, and other people, but most of it was from the Kent State faculty.

Tom Buzzi of the Portage Marble and Granite had arranged for the carving of this to be done at the Rock of Ages Company in Barry, Vermont. It was going to be shipped just prior to May 4th, 1975. The shipment left Vermont just prior to the closing of the granite works by a strike, and I know at home, we discussed what would happen if there was a strike, and this did not get shipped. John had decided that if it did happen, he would drive out there, and try to persuade them to give him this huge, heavy marker, and we would try to take it back ourselves. But fortunately, it did come. The base of the marker was donated by Mr. Buzzi. At the time when it was being put up, there were people from various news media here. One day, a man from Newsweek was here talking to a journalism professor, asking questions, and he saw John was nearby, told him to ask him about it. They had a conversation, the man asked John if he would pose to have his picture taken by the marker. His answer was, "No, I did not put it up to have my picture taken." And so it never was. On the evening of May 3rd, 1975, just preceeding the candlelight vigil, a dedication was made for the new marker. It was very short. John said, "On behalf of members of the faculty of Kent State University, we rededicate this memorial in memory of Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder. And the nine wounded students. Prayers of dedication will be offered by Rabbi Gerald Turk, and the Reverend Ogden White III." Rabbi Turk was -- continued to be the Jewish chaplain of Hillel. Reverend White was the assistant Pastor of the Kent Presbyterian Church, representing the Christian community. The inscription on it was the duplicate of what had been on the original one, which said, "In living memory of Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder, May 4th, 1970. Dedicated May 4th, 1971, by B'Nai Brith Hillel." Three more lines were now added. "Rededicated May 4th, 1975, by members of the Kent State University faculty."

The marker bacame a focal point for some of the May 4th activities, and also for the media. Frequently when they were here, TV cameras would focus in on the marker, when they were telling their story. At the end of the procession, it always ended in the parking lot, and students began placing their candles near the marker. Now during these years, the University grounds had made special efforts to plant flowers, and keep it neat and attractive, particularly around May 4th. Occasionally, candles had started small fires in the wood chips, but it wasn't until later, that they actually caught fire. On the morning of May 4th, 1979, we were standing vigil. We had been up at the candlelight procession, and probably left between one-thirty and two in the morning. Came back to stand vigil later. And someone, as I was standing vigil, said, "Have you seen the marker this morning?" I had not gone over to it, but when I finished my vigil, I went. The wood chips had caught fire, and the heat from the fire had cracked the marker. It was blackened, there were many chips off of it, it looked very bad. At this point, let me retrack just one step, and that is, at the dedication of the memorial, on that night of May third, the next morning, May 4th of that year in 1975, the original cast aluminum marker had been returned, full of bullet holes. Now I will again progress to the fact that this caught fire in 1979. It looked very bad. And it was there, and again, John thought somebody would do something about it. But they didn't.

And so the faculty committee was organized again, the next February, Mr. Buzzi was contacted. His estimate was it would cost twelve hundred dollars to replace the marker, and three hundred fifty to repair it. Knowing how difficult it was to get that original eight hundred, they elected to go with the repair, which meant that the front part of the marker would be sliced off, and then it would be re-inscribed. Money was gathered for that. There were various notices, there was a notice in the Kent Stater in March 19th, 1980, saying that repairs are needed for the marker. And the marker of course, was taken off the spot, and then, according to a Beacon Journal article on March 20, 1980, "The granite stone erected in 1975 has been repaired and returned to its foundation." Notices went out in April, to the faculty from John, saying, "The bill for repair of the May 4th memorial marker in the Taylor Hall parking lot is due. To date, there have not been sufficient contributions to the fund to pay the bill." He appreciated if those who wanted, would send their contributions to the Kent State Foundation For The Memorial Marker Fund. And the money did come in.

A letter of May 12, 1980, from John to Tom Buzzi. It says, "The Kent State University Foundation has advised me that a check has been sent to you covering the bill for repair of the May 4th Memorial Marker. I want to express my appreciation and those of my colleagues, for the excellent job done in repairing the stone. We are particularly grateful for your donation of the cost of polishing and engraving." The carving, at this point, was done here in Kent, by the Portage Marble and Granite. To continue with the -- about the memorial marker, in 1984, John received a note from Jerry Lewis, which said, "I've been asked to write to you about the memorial marker in the Taylor Hall parking lot, by the May 4th memorial committee. The marker has come up several times during our discussions. While I could provide some information, no one is as knowledgable about the subject as you are. At your convenience, would you submit a brief memo to the committee, discussing the marker's history, funding and development problems." John did send a letter to the committee. He enclosed the Kent Stater article which he had written, and then added these words: "It should be emphasized that the marker was intended solely as a permanent replacement for the cast aluminum plaque dedicated by Hillel on May 4th, 1971, and stolen in 1974. My greatest concern from the first efforts to provide the marker, to the present, has been the apparent lack of interest and concern on the part of the administration, where there should have been the original plaque or the replacement marker. The actions I initiated were taken only when it seemed obvious that the University would not replace the stolen plaque, and later, would not repair the fire- damaged marker. I'm not aware of any commitment by the University to assure security and maintenence of the marker. I would hope that there will be a formal assignment for the resposibility of the marker, as well as the steel sculpture and May 4th room in the library, to the administrative office. The unspent funds remaining after the repair of the marker in 1979 are maintained in an account of the KSU Foundation, under my name. I would like to see that fund placed under the faculty senate, or some other permanent university agency, to be used only for maintenence of the marker." And he made some suggestions here. This was really in response to being asked if he thought that marker was adequate as a university memorial. And his feeling was that it was not. Because it was not a university memorial, it was originally a Hillel, and then it was a faculty replacement for the Hillel memorial.

I will now digress from the memorial on the Kent State campus, and just briefly say something about the Segal statue, which is at Princeton. As you know, a foundation had commissioned George Segal, an American sculptor, to do the statue, to be placed on the Kent State campus. And it was turned down. And Princeton said they would take it. Princeton has a lot of sculptures from prominent American sculptors on their campus, so it is appropriate. John wrote to Princeton at one time, asking them to please tell him when the statue was in place, so that someday he could see it. As a result of that, when they were going to have their dedication, they sent an invitation to us, and we did go. The parents of the four students killed were there, and all nine of the wounded students were there. The statue is placed next to the chapel, and it's placed in such a way, that one really has to stop, and walk around it , to see the front of it. You can't just get the impact of it by walking by hurriedly. On the wall of the chapel, is a plaque with the Genesis story, that Segal took this from. And in his remarks, he said that he intended this to just be showing a conflict of generations, which frequently happens. There was nothing else in it, that people in Kent seemed to be reading into it, about guardsmen killing students.

One of the things that happened that day, was that John said to Mrs. Krause, "It's too bad this is not in Kent." And she said, "Well no, it's better it's not, because if it were in Kent, I wouldn't be able to see it." At the time that the gym annex had been built, the Krauses, who had always been here previously on May 4th, had said that they would never come to Kent State again. That's all I have to say about that now.