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A place for Naomi: Garden pays tribute to artist’s disabled niece

Hollidaysburg artist Joel Koss stands next to his sculpture honoring his disabled niece, Naomi Kathleen Caughey, 13. The piece stands at Allegheny and Lindsay streets. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Local artist Joel Koss and a group of anonymous volunteers have beautified the corner of Allegheny and Lindsay streets in honor of Koss’s disabled niece, Naomi Kathleen Caughey, 13.

The Naomi Kathleen Garden, once a vacant lot, is now home to a metal sculpture created by Koss. It rises 22 feet into the air and is composed of triangular beams of steel, carbon steel and stainless steel. The beams are set in a concrete base accented with large black rocks. The piece is surrounded by a red brick area outlined in black concrete.

The lot has been landscaped, with three trees planted along its far border. Additional native Pennsylvania plantings are planned, along with benches where people can sit and reflect.

The site is a tribute to Naomi, the daughter of Dr. Robert and Anne Caughey of Hollidaysburg, who has a rare genetic condition that has left her visually impaired and nonverbal. Originally given a short lifespan, her mother first conceived the idea of a park as a memorial then shifted into creating a space in Naomi’s honor.

Naomi enjoys the sensory experiences at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, where she also attends a school for the blind, Anne Caughey said.

As a consequence of her condition, Naomi has characteristics similar to being severely autistic with “locked in syndrome.” Yet, Caughey said, Naomi understands what people say, has a sense of humor and a distinct personality. Naomi has learned through the use of flash cards and solves algebra problems, her mom said.

Koss said he enjoys taking Naomi for car rides, and they listen to music, including Naomi’s favorite Paul Simon song, “You Can Call Me Al.”

Siblings, Koss and Caughey hope residents will enjoy their efforts to beautify the space at the entrance to the borough.

It’s a labor of love that’s taken more than two years to come to fruition, he said, from buying the lot, creating the design for the art and organizing the volunteers.

Caughey said she hopes people will visit the garden, reflect, contemplate and celebrate the value of all life regardless of a life’s characteristics.

Koss, 49, of Hollidaysburg said he hasn’t titled the steel structure as he prefers not to influence a viewer’s interpretation.

When Caughey views the metal sculpture, she sees an eternal flame.

That’s because, Koss said, several pieces of steel were treated with a material to encourage it to rust. These beams look like flames or the bottom of a blossom bursting forth.

“The rust has been dripping down onto the concrete base so it looks like a blossom coming out of the ground,” Koss said.

Finishing touches will continue this fall with benches and more landscaping elements, Caughey said.

Having the space become a gathering spot in the community would be ideal, the duo said.

For Caughey, the garden is extra special, not only to honor her daughter, but because of all the anonymous volunteers who stepped in to make her idea a reality.

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