Memorial being developed to honor work CU professor
A monument to Gilbert White, a former Gustafson distinguished professor emeritus of Geography at CU, is currently in the city of Boulder’s approval process.
The memorial is planned to be a flood marker that would honor White’s accomplishments in the field of floodplain management, and will be placed on the east side of the Broadway Bridge next to Boulder Creek.
Members of the committee working on this project said White worked his entire life to educate people about the hazards of building on floodplains. He founded the Natural Hazard Center at CU and received national recognition for his accomplishments before he passed away in 2006 at the age of 94.
Molly Tayer, who worked with White when she did work on floodplain management for the city, said he was known as “the father of floodplain management.”
White supported and promoted the idea that artificial means of containing floods were not necessarily the best way to manage them. He said he thought that floodplains were best left undisturbed by the modern engineering of artificial dams and levees, and he spread the message about the hazards of building homes and other structures within a floodplain.
“He worried that we were continuing to think we could engineer our way out of damages due to natural hazards,” Tayler said. “He didn’t believe that would be a wise ultimate plan.”
White’s daughter Mary White, a glass artist helping to design the memorial, said her father advocated working with nature.
“He didn’t believe that you could always change natural phenomena, but you needed to work with it,” Mary White said. “You needed to have an understanding of it and a curiosity.”
The memorial, a tall flood marker to be made from glass and stone, is meant to recognize White’s contributions to the studies surrounding floodplain management and to educate the citizens of Boulder about the dangers of flooding.
The marker will indicate the water levels of past floods in Colorado history, including the Big Thompson flood of 1976 and the 100-year flood of Boulder Creek in 1894. It will also mark the levels of how high the water would reach in certain flooding situations, so that people can see exactly what the water level would be in the instance of something like a 500-year flood.
Elizabeth Black, a member of the committee working on the project, said the project is important to educate the people of Boulder about the dangers of flooding.
“There’s really nothing to kind of educate people about the flood hazard here in Boulder, and we have a really significant danger of flooding in this town,” Black said. “We really wanted to help change that.”
Christian Muller, an artist helping to design the memorial, also spoke to the nature of the marker.
“The primary objective is education in a beautiful and aesthetic way,” Muller said.
The concept for the memorial originated with Mary White, who designed a flood marker in an architecture class while her father was still alive. After her father died, Mary White said she did not think much more about the marker until the city of Boulder wanted to find a way to memorialize him somewhere along Boulder Creek.
She said the educational and practical use of the monument was important to the committee when deciding how to memorialize White because it reflects the nature of his personality.
Alan Taylor, the project manager for the memorial who also worked with White, said the monument reflects White’s nature.
“Gilbert was a very humble person and would probably not be keen on having a monument,” Taylor said. “So, we wanted to look at something that would be practical and would serve the community and would raise awareness and education about flooding.”
Black said she feels similarly.
“Gilbert was a Quaker, and he really didn’t like ringing his own bell a lot,” Black said. “He always wanted to be of use, and make the world a better place, so we’re trying to make the memorial do that.”
Dave Butler, another member of the committee who worked with White at the Natural Hazard Center, said he agreed as well.
“He would have wanted something that was educational, that served some kind of practical purpose,” Butler said.
Right now, the memorial is in the process of being approved by the city. The plan has gone through multiple city departments to receive both input and approval. So far, it has been widely supported.
The members of the committee said they are optimistic that the plan for the memorial will be approved. The committee has raised about $40,000 of the $100,000 required to fund the project, Taylor said.
“I think we’re making great progress and I’m very pleased with where we are now,” Taylor said. “These things take time.”
White’s daughter also spoke on the process and the time it takes for completion of such efforts.
“It’s a slow process, but we expected that,” Mary White said. “It’s a process that involves lots of people considering it and I think Gilbert would approve of that process because he understood that things don’t move quickly and that you don’t force things on anybody.”
Those who would like to donate to the Gilbert White Memorial Fund or who want to find out more information about the project can do so at the fund’s Web site.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Kaely Moore at email@example.com.