Thursday, May 27, 2021

Professor's legacy lives on in garden christened by poet Allen Ginsberg

Christene "Cookie" Meyers at the dedication of the Bruce Meyers Poets Garden, May, 1993,
on the campus of Montana State University-Billings, then Eastern Montana College.
Three of the professor's poems etched on marble were written on the memorial site.
The garden is listed in the Smithsonian's list of public art (see link below.)


Architect Ted Wirth and EMC president Bruce Carpenter
discuss the project at the groundbreaking in fall of 1992.
EACH SPRING,  Bruce Kemp Meyers and his writing students left the indoor classroom for an inviting outdoors venue.  They gathered on the lawn near the Liberal Arts Building on the campus of then Eastern Montana College. It proved a tradition which Meyers continued for 25 years.
He joined the class in writing poems, short stories and essays. They talked about their goals, shared ideas.
It was a special place for my talented, nature loving husband, a way to greet spring and celebrate his gifts in a comfortable place.
The late poet Allen Ginsberg made a spectacular guest
appearance at the dedication of the "Bruce Garden." 
BRUCE'S STUDENTS loved these outdoor writing workshops; so did he.
So when he passed away suddenly in February of 1992, I knew precisely where I'd like his memorial to be:
On the lawn outside the L.A. Building, where he'd logged happy hours each spring since his first year on campus in 1967 until his death, in February, 1992. The memorial includes poems written on the site.
That idea grew to include a garden and poet's corner to honor the creativity that unfolded there. I wanted it to be a place for visitors to remember him, and a haven to welcome other artists.
I CALLED my friend, architect Ted Wirth, who had followed our theater career. We'd also served on boards and committees and I'd interviewed him for the newspaper. He loved the idea and wanted to make my dream come true.  The two of us approached then EMC president Bruce Carpenter, also a good friend, an original thinker who played poker with Bruce and a group of other professors. 
Corby Skinner, left, and Christene Meyers
discuss the program on tap. Poet Allen
Ginsberg was waiting in the wings. 
HE, TOO, liked the idea.  So the process began. Over coffee, Ted and I created a space designed to relax and inspire. The front has a formal look, enhanced by granite and marble.  At its center is a bronze of Bruce sculpted by our longtime friend, fellow actor and Emmy-winning Hollywood special effects artist Andy Schoneberg.  A metal sculpture of our airedale dog was created by artist Lyndon Pomeroy to illustrate one of the poems, "Gandalf."
On the garden's sides are benches. A welcoming archway was inspired by our trips to Japan. Perennials and lilacs flank a brick wall, accented by a Jay Montague sculpture.  Aspen and river rock create a woodsy look.
An overview of the Bruce Meyers Garden and Poets Corner.
THROUGH the years, the garden has become a favorite spot of faculty, staff and students. Some take their lunch break there. Nearby residents walk, run and bike by daily.  Several professors carry on the tradition of convening  classes there -- to study art, language, philosophy and of course, writing.
Bruce Kemp Meyers
is remembered with a
bronze, poems and a garden
A 10-year event, the annual "Bruce Bash," brought together writers, musicians, actors and artists to celebrate the arts and honor Bruce. But the first arts festival celebration in May of 1993 was hard to top. Headliner was poet Allen Ginsberg, who was in Billings for a Writer's Voice appearance. When he heard of the dedication through Corby Skinner, he extended his Billings visit to participate. Also on tap were Marcia Spalding's bellissimo! bell choir, Alice Lyon's Community Youth Chorale, actors from Billings Studio Theatre, Starfire, and students and faculty from both MSU-B and Rocky Mountain College. The Nell, Roberty, Edwards Trio played jazz to wild applause and Ginsberg's 45-minute performance brought down the house.
Sculptor Andy Schoneberg and
a windblown Christene Meyers
at the dedication of the garden.
YELLOWSTONE Public Radio's Marvin Granger and his staff broadcast the event live on Yellowstone Public Radio. Director Skip Lundby  kept the program running smoothly.    
A book of Meyers' poems, "Ventriloquist in the Rain," debuted.  It is still available -- in its fourth printing. Funds from the first edition helped establish the Bruce Meyers Scholarship Endowment at MSU-Billings.  Contributions are welcome at the college's Foundation (see link below.) One of the recipients shared the stage with Bruce.  She played an orphan in our dinner theater production of "Annie" and said she was inspired to pursue a teaching and English career by Bruce, who played Daddy Warbucks. "He wished us to 'break a leg' before each performance. I couldn't understand why he would say that when we had so much dancing to do," she wrote in her thank-you note.)
Alice Lyon in blue conducts her Community Youth
Chorale at the first annual Bruce Kemp Meyers
Arts Festival (the Bruce Bash) in May of 1993.

MEANWHILE, the garden - like all growing things -- evolves and changes.  The spirit of its creation remains:  a calming, inclusive place on campus where people come -- alone or in groups -- to contemplate the contributions of a talented man who influenced many. "Bruce Meyers: poet, actor, teacher," reads the inscription.  May his memory live on.  
Here is the Smithsonian Institution's link to the garden:
Here is the university foundation's link to the English scholarship in Bruce's memory: (A field asks the donor where he'd like to direct a gift; type in Bruce Meyers Scholarship. Contributions are tax deductible and help fund annual gifts to English majors. The awards began in 1993. The Foundation also maintains the garden, as per a 1993 agreement.)

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett "Cheek to Cheek" tour,
in a spectacular Bruce Keller photo from our orchestra seats. 

UP NEXT:  While we're remembering and saluting a life in the arts, another performer comes to mind.  Singer Tony Bennett will turn 95 this August, and we honor his life in the arts, noting his struggle with Alzheimer's.  The writer of this column has been a Tony Bennett fan since childhood, listening to her parents' albums.  Bruce Keller and I have seen him in concert five times, three times with Lady Gaga. His art has kept him lively and engaged. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for a refreshing look at travel, entertainment, nature and family:


  1. Boise ConnectionsMay 27, 2021 at 9:57 PM

    Wonderful place. We were there! Amazing day of talent, surprise, love

  2. Wonderful tribute to an extraordinary man. Still vividly etched in my memory.

  3. So long ago and yet very near in memory and importance. And Allen Ginsberg. Wow!!!

  4. Fellow Actors in AshlandMay 28, 2021 at 10:01 AM

    Bruce was one in a million. So happy to have studied with him. I think of his insightful teaching and his kind way in the classroom. Both a wonderful actor and a great teacher.

  5. Wonderful memories. Proud to have been part of it in one of the theatrical cuttings.