Butterfly Garden & Overlook

At the request of the Joplin Parks Director, Chris Cotten, and through the support of a TKF Foundation grant, Drury University students designed and built a garden space that focuses on the healing of the Joplin tornado survivors. The primary participants were the Joplin Parks and Recreation Department in a supervisor, builder, and stewardship role, Cornell University and USDA Forest Service as researchers, and Forest ReLeaf of Missouri who coordinated tax credits. Drury University was the design-builder working with a trans-disciplinary team: conceptual design input from a Drury Music Therapy professor; survivor story collection conducted by English Department students; website design to house survivor stories done by a Communications Department student; and post-construction individual and community resilience research conducted by a Psychology Department professor and students.

The design of the Butterfly Garden & Overlook weaves together the conceptual ideas derived from Worden’s Four Tasks of Mourning (Worden 1991). Worden recognizes the process as accepting loss, managing the pain of grief, adjusting to the new environment, and making an enduring connection with the deceased. Four tasks to help individuals move into the next phase of life are represented as architectural and natural elements throughout the gardens. The first task, accepting the reality of the loss, begins as visitors pass through the portal of the lost home, the front door. 

The path takes you on a journey around the site, allowing for processing the pain of grief, task 2. Areas with a bench and journal act as a destination and provide a sacred space in nature to adjust to a world without the deceased (or what was lost), task 3. Visitors are encouraged to write and reflect in the journals.

The “penciled” outline of homes represent all homes erased by the storm and plaques educate future generations on the destruction, acts of heroism, survival and the Miracle of the Human Spirit while providing an enduring connection to the deceased (or what was lost), We move on but do not forget, task 4. Butterfly attracting flowers create the unifying circle of the butterfly garden providing an encompassing sense of boundary, safety and enclosure.

The 38 segments of the transitioning water wall represent the minutes the tornado was on the ground. At minute seven, when the storm hit Cunningham Park and the hospital, there is a void. The void becomes water features in two sacred spaces, one broken by the path of the storm and another scarred but whole again.

The butterfly pavilion acknowledges stories told by children that butterflies helped them during the storm and the student-designed bench reflects the transitional nature of healing. Stainless steel pedestals tell stories of survival, heroism, recovery, memorials, statistics, butterfly people and design of the garden.

Students collected, transcribed, and archived survivor stories, which inspired design students prior to the build and were eventually quoted on the storyboards, on water features and permanently housed on a student-designed website at: http://storiesofjoplin.drury.edu

Design and Construction

Students and professors developed the conceptual design of the Butterfly Garden & Overlook and Design-Built 6 of the elements in the garden through the Design-Build Program in the Hammons School of Architecture at Drury University in collaboration with the Joplin Parks and Recreation department led by Chris Cotten. The design was collaborative from beginning to end and through construction, including many community members, some of which were survivors of the tornado.

Student Design-Build elements:

  • 38 Minute water wall
  • Broken Void water feature
  • Healed Void water feature
  • Butterfly Pavilion
  • Story Boards
  • Healing Bench

Joplin Parks & Recreation department built all of the infrastructure of project and gave their heart and soul to making it happen and continue to maintain and care for the project today. Great River and Associates did the design development through construction documents including designing symbology behind the plants and flowers.

The student design elements were developed and prefabricated through an architecture studio course at Drury University. Students worked with JPR during a 10 day “Blitz Build” on site to install the 6 elements. A SmartMob! (A flash mob with a purpose) of 60+ students, staff and faculty converged on the site to install the walls of the garden among other things. Music Therapy Students from Drury University created a Rejuvenation Station by playing music to motivate, uplift and rejuvenate those constructing. Volunteers from the community worked throughout the week.

The plants were installed by volunteers from the community led by the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Joplin Master Gardeners Club.

Joplin Parks & Recreation team

  • Chris Cotten, Director
  • Steve Curry
  • Jeremy Glenn
  • John Graham
  • Aaron Callis
  • Jonathan Alejandro
  • Jason Cowen
  • Sara Fisher
  • Jason Cowen
  • Adam Forrest
  • William Davis
  • Rick Porter
  • Jonathan Alejandro
  • Buddy Scott
  • Mike McDaniel

Student Design-Build team

  • Eric Foster
  • Olivia Freese
  • Stacie Good
  • Jon Hays
  • Michael Ligibel
  • Grace Lounsbury
  • Kanna Matsuo
  • Sam McBride
  • Madison Miles
  • Jacob Nentrup
  • Olivia Snell
  • Lauren Southard
  • Josh Storey
  • Brian Vanne
  • Trevor Wellman
  • Brandon White

Architecture Professors

  • Traci Sooter, AIA, LEED AP, Director Design-Build Program
  • Nancy Chikaraishi, AIA, Associate Professor
  • Keith Hedges, AIA, NCARB

20+ Music Therapy Rejuvenation Station Students

Music Therapy Associate Professor

  • Dr. Natalie Wlodarczyk

Drury SmartMob!

  • 60+ Drury students, staff and Faculty

Research Students


  • Dr. Jennifer Silva-Brown
  • Dr. Peter Meidlinger