Cape River Heritage Museum unveils memorial to Kim McDowell

Monday, May 23, 2011
A memorial was unveiled Sunday at the water garden behind the Cape River Heritage Museum in tribute to the late Kim McDowell. (Fred Lynch)

Friends of the late Kim McDowell remember her for her involvement in community activities such as the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, the United Way, Old Town Cape and the Cape River Heritage Museum.

But when many of those friends gathered at the museum to unveil a tribute in McDowell's memory Sunday afternoon, it wasn't what she did that they talked about, but rather what kind of person she was. Those gathered behind the museum in the Firemen's Garden reminisced about her infectious smile and the hugs that she distributed liberally.

Cape River Heritage Museum director Viney Mosley addressed a group of about 30 of McDowell's friends and museum supporters seated in folding chairs around a newly restored lamppost in the garden McDowell had tended for about 20 years before her death from cancer in October.

Mosley said the museum's board wanted to do something to remember McDowell and recognize her tireless work in the garden.

"We agreed that lighting this garden would remind us of how she brightened a room when she stepped in it," Mosley said.

The inscription on a new monument near the east entrance of the garden remembers McDowell as a "friend and gentle spirit." The monument features the word "Hug" with an arm extending from each side.

McDowell, a big believer in the power of hugs even as a youth, came up with the design as a youngster. She also wrote a poem about hugs, part of which is also inscribed on the monument.

"She touched many lives, and our hope is that through continued sharing of this garden, she will forever be hugging our visitors for years to come," Mosley said.

Kim's husband Terry McDowell said the Firemen's Garden was one of his wife's favorite places.

"There was really nothing she enjoyed doing more on the weekends that working in the garden," he said.

The building that houses the museum at 538 Independence St. was home of the Cape Girardeau Fire Department Station One for many years. According to Dr. John Holcomb, president of the museum board of directors, the firemen first began the garden behind the building as a place to rest. After the fire department vacated the building, the garden was neglected for years. At the request of former museum director Marjorie Thompson, McDowell and sister Wendy Kurka Rust were asked for their help in restoring the garden.

"She had that wonderful green thumb," Thompson said of McDowell. "The place just came to life with beauty, just like she was inside."

Led by Barbara Schwepker, members of the Cape Evening Optimist Club have picked up where McDowell left off in caring for the garden.

The garden can be visited during the museum's regular hours, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.

Mosley said the museum will again be participating in popular passport weekend promotion July 2 to 4.

Popular historic attractions such as the Glenn House, the Red House Interpretive Center, Fort "D" and the museum will offer free admission, and visitors going to all the attractions will be entered into a drawing for a prize. Last year's promotion attracted about 400 people, Mosley said.

Pertinent address

538 Independence St.

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