Ruth Wicker Tribute to Women, Barber Park Event Center to open in East Greensboro
The grand opening of Greensboro’s (and North Carolina’s) first exhibition dedicated to the achievements and contribution of women, and a new event center in East Greensboro’s Barber Park will be held on Friday, Jan. 25 at 1502 Barber Park Dr.
Greensboro Parks and Recreation’s planning and project development division manager Shawna Tillery said that this had been a project 10 years in the making. In 2008, Greensboro resident and philanthropist Ruth Wicker passed away and donated half of her trust to construct a building in a public park that honored women who contributed to Greensboro. Tillery said that there was a committee that went through a selection process to determine the best location, which ended up being Barber Park.
“It took some time for the existing group that came together and that included women and individuals on the Commission for the Status of Women,” Tillery explained. “[Ruth] wanted them to be involved from the process from the beginning. A representative from that group has been involved in the project since Ruth passed away.”
Ruth’s husband, John Wicker, was the architect whose firm designed the original Greensboro Coliseum, Tillery said. While he was still living, he sketched a design of his vision of the building.
“The architect on the building project, Shermin Ata, designed the building but expanded it based on the drawings that Mr. Wicker had provided,” Tillery said. “The city put additional funding to expand the building so that it was just not an exhibit space but also had an expanded, multipurpose function within the park.”
Tillery said $900,000 was allocated from Ruth Wicker’s trust and the City of Greensboro came up with additional funds to finish out expanding the construction. The project’s total cost was $3.25 million.
Tillery said that the Ruth Wicker Tribute to Women exhibition would honor approximately 30 women who have contributed in some way to Greensboro. Tillery noted that the honorees chosen did not have to be born or live out the rest of their life in Greensboro, but their contributions had to be significant to the city.
“Obviously we looked for traits and characteristics that dealt with the positive contributor: How they got involved in the community, and what that involvement was–whether it was education-specific or political-specific,” she said. “Their specific contribution had to directly affect Greensboro to some extent.”
Tillery said that the multipurpose space is around 3,000 square feet, and there is “significant outdoor space as well with a pergola, sitting area, and lawn area.” Then the exhibit space itself is around 1,000 square feet. Tillery said the building was designed so that the front entrance doesn’t have any windows and all the windows are on the backside of the building, which “replicates Mrs. Wicker’s passion for outdoor landscapes and gardens.”
“It is a unique asset to Greensboro and the state because there is not another museum specifically dedicated to women,” Tillery said of the Tribute’s significance to Greensboro. “There are exhibits at museums, but this is a completely dedicated space to women’s contributions to society.”
Tillery also said the center would be open for the public to rent for parties, weddings, and other special events.
“It will correlate with an expansion of space at Gateway Gardens, which is right next to it,” Tillery said. “So it will be a great place for people to come and experience Barber Park. It is a beautiful building; it brings nature inside. One unique feature of the exhibit space is it is not just a square room. It is circular, and it’s designed so that it is unique, as far as the concept from an architectural standpoint. Not to reveal too much, but it is not going to be a standard hall of fame that you are used to seeing. It is going to be a unique exhibit experience.”
In early 2018, Tillery said that Greensboro Parks and Recreation went through a Request for Quotation process to hire a firm that would design the exhibit and determine how to proceed with honoring women who had contributed to Greensboro.
“We didn’t have a lot of direction from the estate as far as what that process looked like in general,” Tillery said. “We worked with Studio Displays, (out of Charlotte) to develop an honoree nomination process. We had a group of stakeholders to vet through those nominated honorees to come up with the initial class for honoring approximately 30 women in the new facility.”
Tillery said Ruth Wicker was born on Aug. 7, 1912, and died on Sept. 20, 2008. She said that Ruth attended Christ United Methodist Church, and was a member of the Starmount Country Club and other various social and civic groups around the city. She enjoyed cooking, sewing, golf, and was fascinated with history, genealogy, and was involved with the Daughters of the American Revolution.
“She did set up a scholarship at UNCG for her sister that passed away in the early ‘80s, available for women who are upcoming nursing students,” Tillery said. “She also has an endowment fund that the Greensboro History Museum uses as well.”
Reidsville resident Mary Susan Wilkie (Ruth’s niece) said Ruth was smart, charitable, happy, proud of her family and “one of a kind.” Wilkie said that her mother and Ruth both went to school at St. Leo’s in Greensboro to become nurses, and that both her mother and Ruth were interested in photography.
“One of the skills she had learned growing up was how to develop film,” Wilkie said. “That is one of the things that she did, and mother did also, was to develop film for the soldiers.”
Wilkie said the Tribute to Women is something that Ruth would be proud of, and she thinks that the event center is going to be great because of its location in Barber Park.
“I knew they had this vision, she talked about it, and John had drawn up the plans for it,” Wilkie said. “[Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department] showed me Uncle John’s plans for his vision of it, and I think the building itself really follows his plan. It is not letter-for-letter, it is not exactly what he had in mind, but I felt very pleased with what I saw.”
Wilkie said it is hard to say why her aunt Ruth wanted to honor women who contributed to Greensboro.
“Aunt Ruth, she liked to be noticed, but she also was very aware of the people who made Greensboro great,” Wilkie said. “There is so much about the times and about men, that I think she looked to the strong women. She felt like the women needed to be recognized.”
The grand opening for the Ruth Wicker Tribute to Women and Barber Park Event Center will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. with the ribbon cutting taking place at 4:30 p.m. Tillery said city officials, elected officials and members of the Wicker family would be cutting the ribbon.
“It is a nice big space that is multipurpose and then it is going to be educational because you have this information about the history and the people. You can’t forget your history,” Wilkie said. “[Ruth] was amazing, she really was something else.”
Tillery said that hor ‘d oeuvres and refreshments will be served and that there would be plenty of time for people to ask questions, look around the space, and “envision some other events they want to have it in the future.”
“We are excited about this project, we think it is going to be a huge asset, and really draw people to the invest East concept,” Tillery said.
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.