Peace garden a place where love may grow

Monday, July 20, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

With doubts on my mind, I walked to Lytle Park to see where the city is going to plant a peace garden. Flowers and shrubs will grow in memory of Arvie Jenkins and other victims of senseless violence. As I passed the downtown park's towering bronze sculpture of Lincoln on Friday afternoon, I could not shake the feeling that this garden was not such a hot idea.

But then I met Arvie Flowers. He told me how much he hurts. His words made me have a change of heart.

Arvie is Arvie Jenkins' father.

For an hour, we stood and talked in the hot sun by the park's bed of perennials. The symbolism was not lost on Arvie Flowers. An avid gardener, he noticed we were standing over flowers that bloom year after year. But we were talking about a life cut short.

Warmed by a muggy breeze, I told Arvie Flowers my thoughts: This peace garden smacked of political grandstanding. With some flowers and a plaque and a few nice words during Thursday's dedication, the city is going to try to cover its collective butt. Cincinnati wants to come out looking good after a festive occasion got out of hand a year ago today.

In the early morning hours of July 20, 1997, Arvie Jenkins lost his life while trying to come to a friend's aid. He was gunned down during the after-concert gridlock and all-night street party that gripped downtown Cincinnati after last year's edition of the Coors Light Festival.

Arvie Flowers heard me out. He is a tall, lean man, well-muscled from working in the flower gardens he tends at his Bond Hill home. "I have to work out there," he said as his shoe pawed the dry brown earth where a memorial bench will sit in the peace garden. "A garden is where things grow and germinate. That's where there is hope for the future, where there is life. Since this horrible thing happened to my son, a garden is the only place where I can find peace."

Arvie dug the toe of his shoe into another spot in the plot of soft earth.

"They're going to put a big stone here," he said. "It will have a bronze plaque with Arvie's name on it. People will also be able to read the date of his birth and the date of his . . . ."

Arvie Flowers could not go on. The word "death" wouldn't come out.

The stone's plaque will bear this inscription:

Peace garden dedicated July 23, 1998. For Arvie Jenkins (November 20, 1975 -- July 20, 1997) and other youths whose lives ended as a result of violence. This peace garden lives on in their memory.

Struggling to regain his voice, Arvie Flowers turned his back on the flower bed. Gazing into the cloudless sky, his eyes saw the massive shoulders of the bronze Lincoln.

"Look at the stature of that statue!" he remarked. Arvie wondered out loud what Lincoln would think of the need for a peace garden. "He would say the garden reminded him of the state of the union, the fighting between the North and the South. Just like the Civil War, so many have died so senselessly. Why do we have to do this to each other? Why can't we sit down and talk? Why isn't there peace in the garden?"

Still looking in Lincoln's direction, Arvie drifted back to thoughts of his son. He remembered how he would drop by the house when Arvie was an infant. "It was in the middle of the day, when I was between calls."

Arvie was a social worker then. Now his paychecks come from selling cable TV subscriptions.

"I'd stop by to pick him up and look him in the face. Then, I'd give him a kiss and be on my way."

Arvie Flowers stopped talking. Tears streaked his cheeks. Hearing his words and seeing this man cry in the middle of a park on a perfect summer afternoon was enough for me. Arvie Flowers had made his case for a peace garden.

By memorializing his son and other victims, this could be a powerful patch of flowers. If it prevents even one person from committing a deadly act that makes a loving father cry, then this peace garden has produced a priceless crop.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.