The birth of a vision…

In 2017, Bob and Judy Headlee’s son and daughter-in-law lived in Loveland, Colorado. Many times, when Bob and Judy would visit there, the family would take walks through Benson Sculpture Garden located in the heart of Loveland. The garden is beautifully landscaped with over 170 sculptures on permanent display, many by world-renowned artists.

Jim and Barbara Hicklin, friends of the Headlee’s, were planning a trip to Colorado and asked if there was something the Headlee’s would recommend doing or seeing. Bob and Judy encouraged them to visit Loveland, and while there, tour the Benson Sculpture Garden. Jim and Barbara did and were extremely impressed with the garden.

Bob, as a member of the Rotary Club of Joplin, and Barbara as a member of the Joplin Daybreak Rotary Club, met to discuss the possibility of starting a similar sculpture garden in Joplin. They both envisioned this as valued Rotary project. That discussion led to the beginnings of Rotary Sculpture Garden.

The next step was to identity a park in Joplin that would be the ideal location for the sculpture garden. Bob and Barbara both felt that the new Mercy Park would be the ideal location, but they did not know if the City of Joplin would agree. Bob requested a meeting with city officials to discuss the idea. Barbara and Bob met with the Lynn Onstot, Public Information Office; Paul Bloomberg, Director, and Carla Bond, Assistant Director of Joplin Parks and Recreation to present an overview of their concept.

Bob showed slides of the types of sculptures featured in the Benson Sculpture Garden. Discussion followed on which park would be best for this project and if the City of Joplin would be interested in allowing both Rotary clubs to pursue this idea. That city group thought Mercy Park would be the best park because of the history of the location and the park’s design as a passive park. However, this would need to be discussed with the city manager and receive higher approval.

Once city officials agreed Mercy Park would be the location to host this concept, the next step was to meet with both Rotary clubs’ Board of Directors. Separate meetings were conducted with both clubs, their boards, and general memberships, which gave approvals to proceed, and the project moved forward.

Next step was to establish a board of directors with the following structure:

  • Two members from each of the Rotary clubs (4 members)
  • Three members from the arts community
  • Two members from the City of Joplin (Director of Parks and Recreation and Director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau)
  • Two members from the community at large

Formed in 2017, the Rotary Sculpture Garden board gained approval for becoming a non-profit 501(c)3 organization then established bylaws. The board defined parameters for accepting sculptures and donations, as well as criteria for sustaining the future of Rotary Sculpture Garden. A memorandum of understanding reached with the City of Joplin established each organization’s specific responsibilities within Mercy Park.

Rotary Sculpture Garden moved from concept to reality on September 17, 2019, with the installation of the nine (9) initial bronze sculptures from donors. In 2020 and 2021, three sculptures were added each year. Today, the Garden has 16 sculptures on permanent display by 8 different world-renowned artists.

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