Nursing alumna reflects on rededicated Ball Nurses Sunken Garden

By Rich Schneider, IU Communications Specialist:

Ruth Rodefeld turned around in her chair under the white tent on the lawn behind Ball Hall to watch students strolling through Ball Nurses Sunken Garden, just like she had done more than 50 years ago.

There were the brick walks, grassy areas and sparkling water spraying from a fountain. And there, in the middle of the fountain, was the bronze sculpture, “Eve.” On this day, Rodefeld and Eve were back in their rightful places.

Rodefeld, along with other IU School of Nursing alumni, faculty and staff as well as IU administrators including President Michael McRobbie, gathered on June 21 to rededicate Ball Nurses Sunken Garden, conceived in 1929 as a therapeutic green space with a convalescent park at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

The garden was designed by Olmsted Brothers, the firm founded by the father of American landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted. It was named in recognition of a $500,000 gift from brothers George and Frank Ball of Muncie for the construction of a home for the nurses of Riley Hospital.

The sculpture, “Eve,” was created in 1931 and nicknamed “Flo” by nursing students in honor of Florence Nightingale. It held a special place in their hearts as the garden became a setting for hijinks and healing, a place for nursing students to celebrate friendships and graduations.

The garden, however, faded over the years. Rodefeld and others launched a campaign to restore the campus treasure.

Rodefeld vividly recalls the sculpture from her student days.

Ruth Rodefeld, third from left in the front row, with other nursing alumni

Ruth Rodefeld, third from left in the front row, with other nursing alumni.

“I passed her every day going to the Student Union Building, which at that time was brand-new, and that’s where our meals were served,” she said. “It had a snack bar and a swimming pool. And sometimes, when we got off of our shift late, we would have to go to the snack bar to get a milkshake and a hamburger, which was kind of fun to do.”

“I do remember passing Flo daily as we went for meals, and we had some shenanigans around her. But we had to be very careful of what we did to let off steam,” she continued.

“I didn’t really have time to just sit in the garden, but every day I passed Flo, and it was like a message to me,” mused Rodefeld. “I think nurses in general have that same kind of beauty inside of them, to be able to take care of people. So there was a constant message when I went by, a feminine message. At that time, there were no males in our nursing class. It was all female. And we all sort of clung to each other and became friends. And we weathered the storms, with Flo’s help.”

Restored Ball Nurses Sunken Garden at IUPUI

Restored Ball Nurses Sunken Garden at IUPUI.

When Rodefeld graduated from Richmond Senior High School in the mid-1950s, she knew exactly what she wanted to do.

I wanted to go to the best school in nursing in the state, and I decided that was Indiana University. It was a wise decision. I got accepted and came to an orientation in Ball Hall (where nursing students lived). I was probably in the next-to-last class of three-year students. As a physician explained it to me, we were special to them because we ran the hospital floors. Yes, we had books, and, yes, we had classes, but a lot of the three-year students were in the hospitals working daily and learning procedures.”

“When I first came to the school, I was pretty much in awe of everything, but as I look back, I remember the beauty of the Ball Hall living room and the garden behind the hall, with Flo, the flowing fountain around her and the landscaping. I knew it was a very special place. Now, I think about her and that she was the epitome of beauty and grace. And I think with that flowing water around her, it’s a great spot for people to go and take a few minutes off of their busy schedules. Today, in fact, I noticed a lot of people around the fountain.”