For his Eagle Scout project, high school student Brandon Ryan of Dallas wanted to make a lasting difference to his community.
With the help of landscape professionals and the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, the project blossomed into a one-of-a-kind Garden of Remembrance and Tolerance, which Brandon and a team of community volunteers built on the Museum's’s parking lot on the northwest corner of Houston and Pacific Streets, directly north of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. The garden was dedicated in a special ceremony on November 20, 2011. Rabbi Shawn Zell of Congregation Tiferet Israel performed a blessing of the garden.
Working with James Burnett, the well-known designer of The Park over Woodall Rodgers Freeway, Brandon started work on the garden in April, 2011. The garden features a unique outdoor steel sculpture, benches, trees and landscaping.
The steel sculpture was designed, constructed and installed by two friends of Brandon’s, Austin and Bronsin Ablon. The three are students at Greenhill School of Dallas. Greenhill art teacher Tony Schraufnagel helped supervise the sculpture.
At the dedication ceremony, Austin Ablon said, “We invite you to discover your own meaning about the sculpture but through building the memorial we have developed a sort of story of what the piece depicts. At first we had the idea to include the metal posts in the walls to represent the concentration camps as cold and hard jails. As we continued building the memorial we discovered more and more about what it meant to us. Its name, “Coming Together” embodies what happens with the sculpture when it rains. The rain drops, interrupted from their free fall paths, are collected and guided down the path until they all fall into the center star of David that sits bellow. In that action, they “come together” as one. We believe that this idea represents what happened to the Jewish people during the holocaust. Just like the rain drops, their daily lives were interrupted, they were gathered together and forced into trains, and then into concentration camps. But after all of that happened, even though they had suffered horribly, the survivors came together as the Jewish people, stronger and united - just like the rain drops.”
Before he could start work on the Memorial Garden, Brandon first had to secure building permits by presenting his project to the West End neighborhood committee and City Landmark Commission. Once he secured approval, he got a donation of bulldozing services to rip up the asphalt where the garden was placed. The next day, he and a group of ten Greenhill friends set out to clear the land and start the project. Throughout the spring and summer, Brandon wrote grant proposals to obtain trees, received donations of landscaping supplies, and raised close to $2,000 for the Garden by writing letters to friends’ parents, almost entirely from the Greenhill community. When the park was completed in August, he, along with staff of the Museum, manually watered the trees every day for two months to keep them alive during the scorching summer.
At the dedication ceremony, Brandon reflected on the project. “At times, I thought it was far too large a feat to be accomplished by a fifteen year old kid, but as I kept working and working, month after month, it started to become more of a reality ever day. On the last work day, when the sculptures were installed, it occurred to me that I had completed it; I had done what was at one time impossible.”
Brandon thanked the donors of needed materials, the Ablon brothers and other volunteers, his parents and the Museum's President.
“I am so grateful that I was offered this once in a life time opportunity and that I had so much support from everyone I knew,” Ryan said. “I never thought I could do something this big when I was thinking of possible Eagle Scout projects, but now that I have built this meaningful and memorable garden, I feel like I can take on anything. Thank you all for your help, for your support, and for the opportunity to lead in the construction of this memorial.”