Memorial garden dedicated to missing scholar Yingying Zhang


Kenyon Edmond

The Yingying Zhang garden, located at the intersection of Goodwin and Clark on Oct. 9, 2018.

A memorial garden will be dedicated in the name of visiting scholar Yingying Zhang, who went missing on June 9, 2017 and is presumed dead by the FBI, on Oct. 11.

The Yingying Zhang garden, located at the intersection of Goodwin and Clark, is designed by Phyllis Williams and Christina Nordholm, members of the Champaign County Master Gardeners.

“We wanted a place that was safe for the students to congregate,” Williams said. “They had been using a tree near the parkway to do so, which is the exact spot where she was seen last.”

Robin Kaler, University spokeswoman, said a friend of Ms. Zhang came to her and asked if this would be possible, and everyone on campus was extremely excited to execute the idea.

“Its very clear that Yingying Zhang left a very important mark on our University and brought a lot of people together,” Kaler said. “I think this is a really nice way to give people a place to go to remember her, to think of her and feel peace.”

Williams said the garden pathways’ stones were designed to disappear leading to a bench. The main feature that seems to stand out most is the weeping cherry tree, she said, which affected the student volunteers and Master Gardeners when it was planted.

“Its like there was a presence in the garden when it was planted,” Williams said. “It was transcendent in a way. Yingying’s father was on the phone FaceTiming us so he could see the whole process. It was just beautiful.”  

Ryan Pankau, University extension educator and head of Master Gardeners, said the color scheme for the garden was chosen to be more somber with green and white.

“We tried to incorporate as much Chinese influence as we could in the garden while still making sure that the plants were familiar and could bloom in the weather here to maintain their durability,” Pankau said.

The Garden will be maintained by the Chinese Student Scholars Association after the opening under the supervision and support of the Master Gardeners here.

Dean of ACES Kimberlee Kidwell said she hopes the garden becomes a reminder of the importance of being kind and compassionate to one another, as well as the importance of supporting every member of the Illini community, she said.

“The garden is spectacular. We received donations of material and time from many people across the community, who did an excellent job of implementing the design,” she said. “It captures the essence of Yingying perfectly, and I sincerely hope that people sense her presence there whenever they visit the site.”

Kidwell said the garden has been a labor of love that came from the heart, and the results reflect the level of care that was taken to create a safe haven in this space.

“I have witnessed incredible acts of kindness and support from people all across the region, many of whom never met Yingying,” Kidwell said. “I am grateful to each and every one of them for caring enough to doing something good to support Yingying, her family and friends and this community.”

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Editor’s note: The date for the dedication of the memorial garden was incorrectly stated as Oct. 12. The correct date is Oct. 11. The story reflects this correction. The Daily Illini regrets the error.