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Penny Park Honors School of Education Dean With Color, Space and Peace

June 21, 2023

View of the newly installed plaque for Penny Park on Warren and Filbert streets.
View of the newly installed plaque for Penny Park on Warren and Filbert streets. 

According to some close colleagues of the late Drexel University School of Education Dean Penny L. Hammrich, PhD, who passed away last August, it's “so Penny” to not have some thing — a classroom or a bench or a painting — made in her honor somewhere in some building on campus. And it's "so Penny" to have the thing (that’s not a thing at all) named in her honor not be possessive — in other words, not just a thing for her. It's very important to note that the thing is “Penny Park,” and not “Penny's Park.” And that Penny Park is filled with art and flowers and greenery.  

Located behind the building at 34th and Market streets housing the School of Education on Drexel's University City Campus, Penny Park was named in her honor in February — just in time for the arrival of spring when big red tulips came up in the park. A new plaque on the park’s brick wall notes that the space was dedicated in her honor, and shares that her “12 years of dedication to Drexel University left an indelible mark on all she touched.”  

“She would frequently walk around these parks to get a break of sunshine,” remembered School of Education Associate Dean of Teacher Education and Undergraduate Affairs Sarah P. Ulrich, EdD, who is also a clinical professor. “Penny's office was in that building right by this park and she loved it. She was so focused on her family, which included her school, and making sure that we had a space where we were all together. She was so thrilled to move in there when we did in 2019, and she loved walking around and seeing people.”  

Ulrich; Ayana Allen-Handy, PhD, associate professor in the School of Education; and Sherri Manson, program administrator and assistant to the dean and associate deans in the School of Education, were some of the closest people connected to Hammrich at Drexel. Allen-Handy and Manson in particular had their own special and personal relationships with her.  

A woman clapping at a podium in Commencement gear.
Penny L. Hammrich, PhD, at Drexel's 2018 Convocation, when she was interim dean of the School of Education. She officially became dean the next year.

“Sherri and I specifically were the last people with her alive and were with her when she passed in the hospital, and we all feel obligated to continue her legacy like a physical passing of the torch,” said Allen-Handy. “It's been a hard journey, but also there's a peace in finding your own purpose and being there for someone who was there for you so many times.” 

Plans to honor Hammrich with the park were set in motion when the University held a memorial service for her in October. The standing-room-only event in Behrakis Hall was attended by School of Education faculty, professional staff and students, as well as people from across Drexel, her family (she grew up in South Dakota) and friends, colleagues and mentees from outside the University and even out-of-state. With the naming of Penny Park, there's now a permanent space on campus for those who knew her to visit and remember her.

 “Penny was a visionary leader who infused innovation and civic engagement throughout the School of Education and its programs. I will always remember the spark of her joyful determination,” said Drexel President John Fry, who selected the park to be named for her. “When students and colleagues come to Penny Park to gather, study, socialize or reflect, they will also remember Penny's joyful spirit, her devoted service to the School of Education and her lasting contributions to Drexel University and beyond.”

A view of Penny Park looking east.
A view of Penny Park looking east.

There's a lot to look at in Penny Park, which wasn't named before and is also located next to the URBN Center Annex at 3401 Filbert St. Yes, there are trees and flowers and bushes and seating options. Like other green spaces on campus, the park can be used for group gatherings as well as individual moments of outdoor solitude. But there is some public art onsite that pre-dates the naming of Penny Park, and even Drexel's ownership of the park.  

The green space, and the URBN Center Annex next to it, used to be the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) Caring Center for Children & Parents, before Drexel created the URBN Center Annex in 2013; the ISI was housed across the street in today's URBN Center. Multiple murals from the daycare's playground were included with the property.

There are two ISI-dated 7’ x 13’ ceramic tiled murals from 1982 that are still on display today: Guillermo Wagner Granizo's “Tall Things” and Lark Lukas’ “The Arts Festival: A Celebration of Life.” They were commissioned by Eugene Garfield, PhD, ISI's founder and a renowned creator of the international scientific indexing system, for those pieces and other works placed in the ISI.

It's “The Arts Festival” that Manson and Ulrich were most drawn to when they toured the newly named park for the first time. 

“This one is perfect, with all the colors and diversity and different mobilities and ages and families — all the things that Penny cared about,” Ulrich noted while looking closely at the mural. “There just seems to be a lot of fun here. She loved to have fun.”  

Three women stand in front of a brick wall with a plaque, next to trees.
Left to right: Ayana Allen-Handy, PhD; Sherri Manson and Sarah Ulrich, PhD, at Penny Park.

“Now that I'm really looking at this mural, it has a little bit of everything,” Manson replied. “She was all about the collective. And the students.” 

The other mural, “Tall Things,” features an arrangement of butterflies that reminded Allen-Handy of Penny.  

“She was always evolving and doing something new,” she said. “Penny would come out and learn a new skill or a new craft, like reading our tarot cards and getting into quantum physics. There was just this love of life and learning that was really part of who she was.”  

Two painted murals cover the other two tiled murals by Granizo and Lucas, which are in poor condition, according to Orlando “Dino” Pelliccia, director of the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design's Leonard Pearlstein Gallery, which brought in the painted murals and is located in the URBN Center Annex next to Penny Park. They both depict womxn leaders in the Indigenous community and were painted by local Philadelphia artists during a livestreamed event, “(S)Heroes Among Us,” in October 2020, in honor of Native American Heritage Month. A mural by Leon Rainbow and a mural by BUSTA are currently on view. 

Though the painted and tiled murals had a home in the space before it became Penny Park, the three School of Education faculty and professional staff were struck by its parallels to Hammrich's work and support of her faculty's work related to education, diversity, children and empowerment of girls and women.

School of Education faculty, professional staff and students gathered at Penny Park on June 14 for a reflective gathering honoring their former dean, Penny L. Hammrich, PhD.
School of Education faculty, professional staff and students gathered at Penny Park on June 14 for a reflective gathering honoring their former dean, Penny L. Hammrich, PhD. Photo credit: Karena Alane Escalante, PhD candidate in the School of Education.

Allen-Handy had already seen the park and its art; she first noticed the plaque as soon as it was up, since she walks by it on her way to work. She quickly arranged for the Dragons in the Justice-oriented Youth (JoY) Education Lab, of which she is founding director, to visit the park.  

“I brought my lab and all of my students here, and we took our portraits for the year here and reflected on Penny and her impact,” she said. “Penny was the instigator for even thinking about starting a lab around issues of social justice for youth, and it was her vision that allowed for me to have the space to create something like that.” 

That was very typical of her, Manson noted: “Penny always had big ideas. She was a very encouraging dean. She always gave us courage to try new things, and she encouraged us personally as well as professionally. She gave us a lot of inspiration. No matter what you wanted to do or what you were thinking about doing, she was always saying, ‘You can do it.’”

An informal dedication of the park was held for School of Education faculty and professional staff on June 14 before the school's Commencement ceremony. Not only is the timing right because the park is now open, but also because it's the first Commencement without Hammrich, who joined Drexel's faculty in 2010.  

“I think the year has gone by so quickly and yet so slowly,” said Allen-Handy. “Sometimes I'll stop and think, ‘Oh, it hasn't even been a year yet.’ And now we're hitting a milestone like graduation, which she loved every year. She just really loved being a dean.”

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