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Wildcat sculpture dedicated to UA president, wife

MATT ROBLES/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Fireworks light the sky above the UA Mall as the wildcat sculpture is unveiled and dedicated to President Likins and his wife at the Alumni Plaza dedication ceremony Friday evening.
By Natasha Bhuyan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, November 1, 2004
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Moments before fireworks electrified the sky above the UA Mall Friday night, the Alumni Association dedicated the new wildcat sculpture on campus to UA President Peter Likins and his wife Pat during the Alumni Plaza dedication ceremony.

Philip "Flip" May, president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona in 1979-1980 and chair of the Alumni Association in 1999-2000, said Likins was chosen because he embraced the Alumni Plaza from the beginning and has contributed years of tireless work to the university.

This month marks Likins' seventh year as president of the UA.

"People owe him a huge debt of gratitude," May said. "He's the strongest leader I've met."

Likins, who was surprised by the dedication, said the tribute left his wife in tears.

"It means more than I can possibly find words to explain," Likins said. "We are very appreciative of the thoughtful people who dedicated that wonderful sculpture to us."

Titled "The Wildcat Family," the 14-foot-tall sculpture features two full-grown wildcats one perched upon a saguaro branch, the other sitting below guarding two cubs, symbolic of one generation passing on their knowledge, love and experience to another, said Gilbert Chester, chair of the Alumni Association.

Although May pitched the idea of the Alumni Plaza and a bronzed wildcat statue to Likins in 2000, Likins was the person who came up with the concept for the "picturesque" wildcat family sculpture, May said.

The piece was sculpted by Tubac artist Nicholas Wilson from Likins' vision, and the cost is estimated at $170,000.

Lynn Cuffari, who graduated from the UA in 1982, said she believes the sculpture is a beautiful representation of what family and community bring the UA. Cuffari said although she graduated years ago, she knows she will always be part of the Wildcat family.

The unveiling of the sculpture followed the dedication of the $5 million Alumni Plaza, which was funded entirely by alumni and private donors, to the university.

The plaza includes shaded seating, a grassy hill, trees, facts about the UA engraved in granite, the Joseph Wood Krutch cactus garden and the four University Mission Fountains of education, discovery, inspiration and service.

During their speeches, Gilbert said the plaza will be a place for students to "gather, inspire, celebrate, contemplate, rest and dream," while May called the Alumni Plaza a gift from the "grateful sons and daughters" of the university.

"We labored for five years to see this day. It was a labor of love," May said. "Once a student, always an alum."

In his speech, Likins praised the determination of the alumni and joked about "the battle of the boojums," in reference to the controversy the alumni faced in 2002 when they suggested moving the cactus garden. Some students opposed the move, as the garden's rare boojum trees have been part of the UA since 1891, and alumni later agreed to incorporate the garden into the plaza.

A crowd of more than 600 people watched the ceremony, which included Hopi, Hawaiian, African and "Roaring '20s" dancing, as well as performances by a mariachi band, the UA alumni band and a UA vocal jazz ensemble. Classic cars from the T-Bird and Corvette Car Clubs surrounded the celebrations.

Sandra Ruhl, president of the Alumni Association, said the program was intended to reflect the diversity of campus, as well as demonstrate the UA's historic heritages and traditions.

UA alumni who attended the dedication ceremony said they believed the plaza is a positive addition to the UA.

Huge Guinn, Class of 1950, said the campus has changed dramatically since he was a student. Guinn said he used to gather with his friends in the student union, which was then located in the basement of Old Main.

"I never dreamed (campus) would ever be this big or beautiful," Guinn said.

Terri Hanger, Class of 1976, said she hopes the Alumni Plaza gives students a place to take a break from their rigorous schedules and appreciate the college experience.

"Take time to enjoy the uniqueness of the whole environment," Hanger said.

Tucson resident Wayne Jackson said when he brought his daughter to eat at the Student Union Memorial Center the past few months, he was forced to walk around the construction. However, after seeing the plaza, Jackson said the construction was worth the wait.

UA students, who also had to endure a year of construction, got their first glimpse of the plaza Friday afternoon, and many said they were happy with what they saw.

Cassie Coleman, a communication sophomore, said she believes the plaza will contribute to the atmosphere of campus.

"I can't wait to sit and read on it," said Coleman of the grassy hill.

Ryan Virden, a molecular and cellular biology freshman, said he was impressed by the Alumni Plaza.

"I really like it," Virden said. "It has more of a modern twist than the rest of the Mall."

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