Campus & Community

City commemorates Newman Center “fixture”

High atop a sign pole on the northwest corner of University Boulevard and Harvard Street is a simple message in white letters on a field of blue. The words speak softly to those who hurry past: “In Memory of Ruth Jourdan. Please drive safely.”

Jourdan died Dec. 19, 2008. Two weeks previous, she was hit by a car a few feet from where the sign stands. She was walking from the Tabor House apartments on the southeast corner, where she lived, to DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts, where she was a volunteer. She had almost made it through the University Boulevard crosswalk when she was struck. She was 76.

On April 3, some 35 people gathered at the corner to dedicate the remembrance sign and talk about their friend. Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey spoke of the tragedy of Jourdan’s death. Doves were released. Tears were shed. William Hollifield, a senior at the Lamont School of Music, played a bittersweet ballad rendition of “Body and Soul” on the saxophone.

And everybody thought about Ruth Jourdan for a while.

“Ruth was a very special person to a lot of us,” said Malcolm Lynn Baker, said DU associate professor of music.

“A lot of her neighbors came out,” Hollifield said. “They were really happy that they could be there for Ruth.”

People from the Newman Center attended as well.

“She was in the first group of volunteers when the (Newman) Center opened in the summer of 2003,” recalled Dee Getchel, Newman Center manager of patron services. “She was so enthusiastic. She got the top-volunteer award the first three years.” Jourdan was a “passionate fan of the performing arts,” Getchel added, and especially enamored of jazz and opera. She volunteered to usher so many Newman Center events she seemed like a “fixture,” Getchel said. She frequented local jazz clubs like Dazzle. She walked the neighborhood and had lots of friends.

Jourdan came to Denver in 1995 after a successful career in New York as a commercial artist. She hobnobbed in her heyday with the likes of Jackson Pollack, Getchel says.

The memorial sign bearing her name was erected by the Denver District Attorney’s Office, says coordinator Josh Thurmond. The 10-year-old program uses the signs to drive home the importance of pedestrian safety and driver care.

Typically, the signs stay up at the site of a death for two years and then are offered to the victim’s family. They may take the sign or ask that it remain.

“Most families want to keep it up,” Thurmond said. “They see the value to the community. They go from tragedy to triumph and become advocates for pedestrian safety.”

Ironically, Jourdan had already ventured down that path when she found herself in the path of a car. She and friends had begun organizing an advocacy group to promote pedestrian safety when she was hit.

“Being from New York, she recognized the need,” Thurmond said. “Pedestrians here are not in charge as they are in Manhattan.”

The DA’s office is preparing a recommendation on how to make the intersection safer. Charges against the driver of the car are still pending.

For information about the memorial signs program or to report a defaced sign, call Thurmond at (720) 913-9207.

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