The Torchbearer statue has witnessed many milestones since his 1968 debut on campus—marriage proposals, the Vol Walk, and plenty of graduation day photos.
The recent renovation of Torchbearer Plaza has provided a unique opportunity for alumni staff to send back a piece of UT history to hundreds of Volunteers.
Nearly 700 engraved bricks were set to be moved and then reinstalled this summer but were instead stored for safekeeping. UT officials decided to create a full set of engraved brick replicas to better match the new brick color on the renovated plaza.
UT’s alumni affairs staff rolled up their sleeves this summer and participated in a “brick party” to ensure that each of the engraved bricks surrounding the statue was securely stored.
Now their goal is to provide a keepsake for those that were recognized as part of the brick project. The newly engraved bricks—with the same wording as the originals—were installed along the retaining wall just behind the Volunteer statue.
The original engraved bricks were first placed in the Torchbearer Plaza to recognize donors as part of the 1997 Senior Gift Challenge. The campaign later broadened to include all other donors through 2012.
During the “brick party,” more than a dozen alumni and development staff members washed, sorted, and organized the bricks in alphabetical order.
“The Torchbearer Plaza is a source of pride for our alumni, students, faculty, and staff,” said Lee Patouillet, associate vice chancellor of alumni affairs. “Our staff was honored to find a way to make sure the bricks were safely stored during the summer in order to be returned to their owner in a special way.”
Each brick will be wrapped in an orange ribbon with a note thanking the donor for supporting UT.
All brick owners on file will be notified via e-mail or letter explaining their options for claiming their original brick. Owners can pick up their brick in person at the Tyson Alumni House on UT’s campus or they can choose to have it mailed. Their choice must be made by September 30. All unclaimed bricks will be recycled.
Nathan Zipper (’07) said he’s looking forward to receiving what is now part of his family’s history.
“Although we were disappointed to learn that our brick would be moved from its original location, we are beyond impressed with how staff members handled the process,” said Zipper.
In 2009, Zipper bought a brick to pop the question to his then-girlfriend, Katie (’07). He brought her to Circle Park and got down on one knee near the brick that says “MKM, will you marry me?”
“My wife and I are tremendously grateful for the opportunity to be reunited with such an extraordinary piece of UT history. We just welcomed our first child, Knox, on August 25, and we can’t wait to take him to see the new Torchbearer Plaza where his parents got engaged.”
Bricks installed along the walkway through the middle of Circle Park were not affected by the renovation and remain intact. The rebuilt plaza has been widened to accommodate larger outdoor events and provide better handicap access. It features new trees, streetscape elements, and sidewalks.
Circle Park is being updated with new paths, landscaping, a new irrigation system, and XtraGrass, which blends and reinforces natural grass with artificial turf for improved durability. The new turf is currently being installed.
Brick owners who would like to receive their original brick should call 865-974-6507 or visit volsconnect.com/torchbearerproject.
For more information about UT’s Office of Alumni Affairs, visit utk.edu/alumni.