From prairie to paradise: 50 years of dedication

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Isabel Dubert, Contributing Writer

 

Students and Dr. Richard Olenick (far left) work on the sidewalk behind Braniff and Blakley Library. Novinski was instrumental to its creation. –Photo courtesy of Lyle Novinski
Students and Dr. Richard Olenick (far left) work on the sidewalk behind Braniff and Blakley Library. Novinski was instrumental to its creation.
–Photo courtesy of Lyle Novinski

There always has been, and no doubt always will be, a minimal contingent of the uncreative who disparage the appearance of our campus as Eliot’s Waste Land or Frank Herbert’s Dune. Being set in Irving, whose claim to fame is being the birthplace of Lee Harvey Oswald, would be a challenge to any campus. But visionary professor Lyle Novinski has proven himself more than equal to the task over the past 50 years.

Last Monday afternoon, I was honored to visit the Novinskis at their lovely home in Irving, which is filled with his own artwork and pictures of his service in the Korean War. What a privilege to hear him describe his vision for the University of Dallas campus and how he and a constantly-changing handful of dedicated students transformed the deserted ranch land into a labyrinth of unexpected sceneries and creative artwork in nooks and crannies.

“That’s as far as we’ve gotten. This history is from prairie to paradise, meaning this is as close to paradise as we’ve gotten,” said Novinski.

Everywhere you look around campus, something has been beautified by the hands of Novinski and his dedicated art students through the decades. The significance and scope of his work on this campus, from the student projects and university commissions to maintenance jobs and landscape committees, is inestimable.

The top 20 of these imaginative contributions are:

1. The steps through the woods up to Haggar from the Art Village

2. The rock garden path from the sidewalk above to the Rathskeller below

3. The rock-and-shrub island at the intersection of sidewalks behind Haggar toward the Art Village

4. The sidewalk entrance and terracing to the front and back of Jerome Hall

5. The upper and lower staircases and terracing leading to Gregory Hall

6. The curving handicap access to the Mall between Braniff and Blakely

7. The pathway between the Church of the Incarnation and the Maher Athletic Center

8. The steps leading down behind the Maher Athletic Center to the swimming pool

9. The extended porch of Lynch Auditorium, for when it was used for Sunday Mass

10. The sidewalk between Augustine and Anselm down toward the old chapel, now the Drama building

11. The back entrance to the Drama building with the terracing and trellis

12. The back of Braniff on the way toward the seminary, with the stairs down the hillside to the parking lot

13. The end of Madonna Hall facing Catherine Hall

14. The paths between Madonna and Theresa behind the Margaret Jonsson Theater

15. The trail through the woods from Madonna behind the Margaret Jonsson Theater

16. The replanting of the Art Village woods

17. The courtyard behind Augustine, which is a memorial to Father Thomas Cain, O.P.

18. The stairs and terracing between Gorman and the Haggerty Science Building

19. The Constantin Memorial Garden in front of Gorman

20. The Cappuccino Bar and patio

This barely begins to cover the breadth of influence Novinski has had on the backdrop of UD’s campus.

Art students, young Stefan Novinski with the rake, and Dr. Roper (second from right) work on the path behind the Margaret Jonsson Theater. –Photo courtesy of Lyle Novinski
Art students, young Stefan Novinski with the rake, and Dr. Roper (second from right) work on the path behind the Margaret Jonsson Theater.
–Photo courtesy of Lyle Novinski

The inception of the student landscape project was, curiously, on the Rome campus, when Tommy Hansell (a student at the time) complained about how ugly the Irving campus was. Novinski explains, “And I said, ‘Well, Tommy, you can fix it, because when you come home I’ll make you Student Government Landscape Chairman.’ So when he came home I did. And this was our first project: to build the sidewalk that comes across the Tower over to the dorms. But the end of the parking lot didn’t have any way to get from the parking lot to the Mall. So people stomped across there. So what we did is we planted a row of shrubbery and made a sidewalk for them. Now, we did our own cement mixing and borrowed rebar from wherever we could steal it. That’s where we really started the whole project. Tommy was our first chairman.”

What struck me most, having heard the story of our campus’ development, was the resourcefulness and innovation that students and professors have used in the process of enhancing the campus. The university was relatively poor in those days, but despite its penury, both students and professors exemplified resourcefulness and ingenuity. Instead of leaving the campus to remain a prairie or a dairy farm, they were paragons of the “use what you have” model.

I was also impressed by the student initiative through the years to participate in the improvement of their campus for its own sake. One fall during finals week, a group of five seniors went to Novinski and said, “Our exams are all over and we want something to do.” So he set them to work on the garden path by Theresa Hall, which was a mess of mud at the time. One of these students was Sean Doherty, who ended up as the Student Landscape Committee chair.

Another group of students developed the path through the woods from the Art Village. One of Novinski’s sons, David, was a freshman that year and participated in the trench-digging and inlaying of railroad ties to form the steps, then filling them in with gravel. The project took one Sunday afternoon, and was virtually expense-free. The materials were gratis and it has required little maintenance to keep it up over the years. The railroad ties function as a chain, which moves as the land moves, and doesn’t break. Of the students who volunteered to work with Novinski on it, three became Student Government officers and one a Rome assistant.

“I don’t know whether people who are leaders sign up for this sort of thing, or whether by involving them in some project with the school you bond and become a leader. So I think it’s a little of both,” said Novinski.

Novinski and his wife, Sibyl, (who brews wonderful tea, by the way) expressed what a great opportunity he has had to guide the university and to make such a notable difference in its physical appearance since it began as pastureland. Professor Novinski’s legacy at the university is so great he deserves to have a book written about his work here through the years.

1 COMMENT

  1. From having had the delight of being on campus during the creation of some of these projects and from having benefitted from the guidance and friendship of Lyle and Sybil, I am proud to say that the UD campus landscape is a symbol-scape for me. It partakes of its own piece of the Blessed Realm, as all sacramentals do. (Also, my wife and I had our first-ever kiss on the Art Village trail from Haggar!) A landscape of dreams paves the landscape of dreams-come-real. That’s just part of what Lyle and Sybil taught me that I continue to pass on to others! Thank you, Novinskis!

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