When Christie Goodman and her two daughters drive past the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, everyone goes silent.
Husband and father Ryan Goodman was killed in a mechanical accident about five years ago while helping to build the center. Seeing the glass and steel building break the Kansas City skyline is difficult for the family.
Although it hasn’t been easy, Christie Goodman is trying to change that.
“A memorial would bring closure to my girls or even a sense of pride,” she said. “It’s a painful place to be. It’d be nice to turn that around for us from a negative to a positive.”
Every year since her husband died on Nov. 10, 2009, Goodman has returned to the Kauffman Center to lay flowers nearby in memory of Ryan. About two years ago, she began searching for a way to create a permanent memorial for her husband.
“Ryan was an organ donor and wanted to be cremated, so there is no grave,” Goodman said. “That leaves an empty spot, a place missing to go and pay respects. A memorial felt appropriate.”
After several setbacks, and thanks to help from a city councilman, Goodman might finally make the memorial for her husband — and all laborers killed at Kansas City work sites — a reality.
She and Councilman Scott Wagner are moving forward with plans to have a bench built on 16th Street across from the Kauffman Center, between Broadway and Central Street. It would include a plaque and a bronzed hard hat — the same hard hat Ryan was wearing the day he died.
Goodman did not start with the bench idea when she set out to create a memorial.
She first wanted to create a bronze work from his boots — a “small and subtle memorial” that would be placed at the Kauffman Center. Goodman contacted the Kauffman Center and its architects, Safdie Architects, but plans quickly came to a halt.
Paul Schofer, president and chief executive officer of the Kauffman Center, told The Star in an email that there is a policy prohibiting memorial statues at the center.
“I understand the request was evaluated in this light,” Schofer said. “Shortly after the accident occurred in 2009, we sought to honor Mr. Goodman by placing a plaque with his name on a seat in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre.”
The Goodman daughters, Tehya, 14, and Makaylee, 13, also placed their handprints on the center’s Children’s Wall, “to further serve as a permanent reminder to them of the contribution their father made to the project,” Schofer said.
Goodman said she was disappointed but determined. She thought about the space around the Kauffman Center and Bartle Hall and how there were few places to sit and enjoy the architecture.
“I thought a bench would not only be a great memorial for Ryan but also a place for people to sit and think,” Goodman said. “We go to a new city and appreciate the architecture, but we have to remember that people work and sacrifice to build it. Somebody’s daddy died building it.”
Goodman soon found that getting a bench built on city property was no small task. It requires an encroachment permit — taking city property and turning it into private property — which brings with it annual license fees and insurance payments.
“I already knew I was going to pay for the bench and donate it, but the added fees made it about impossible to do,” she said. “The permits division told me to see if a city official would file a city ordinance to make the bench a part of city property, which would get rid of the fees and insurance.”
Goodman emailed Wagner and heard back from him within 10 minutes, she said.
“My own father was an ironworker, so I have a certain understanding of what ironworkers’ families face,” Wagner said. “That made this especially pertinent to me, along with the fact Mrs. Goodman was having such a difficult time getting it done.”
Wagner said he will file an ordinance to maintain the bench as part of the Kansas City Convention Center’s grounds. But first, the bench must be approved by the Municipal Art Commission and the Convention & Entertainment Facilities Department and would be viewed as a donation of artwork, he said.
“The bench would be a great way for people to take a moment to understand personal sacrifice,” Wagner said. “It’s also just a great amenity for an area where many people walk and there are few places to sit.”
The art commission and convention facilities department will receive a rendering of the bench, Wagner said, and preliminary talks have been encouraging.
“My goal is to have everything taken care of on our side by the end of summer so Mrs. Goodman can put in the bench by November,” Wagner said.
This November will be the fifth anniversary of Ryan’s death. If all moves ahead as scheduled, Goodman said, they will have the memorial built by Nov. 10 and will have a small ceremony there that day.
What started out as a memorial for Ryan evolved into a way to honor all the laborers who have sacrificed to build Kansas City when Goodman realized there may be no such memorials in the area.
“This has been a long process,” she said. “And the whole time I have been wondering: Why don’t we have this already to pay respect for those who have died building this city?”
Since Ryan’s death in 2009, more than 50 laborers have died in accidents at work in western Missouri, said Barbara Theriot, the area director for the Kansas City office of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.
“Every April there we hold a Workers’ Memorial Day event to pay respect for those lost,” Theriot said. “But I don’t know of any permanent memorials to workers in our area of the state.”
The national AFL-CIO labor organization does not have any memorials in Missouri listed in its collection of workers’ memorials throughout the country.
Dick Christopherson, business manager of Ryan’s union, Ironworkers Local 10, said he applauded Christie Goodman for wanting to recognize workers who had lost their lives.
“Ryan was a top-shelf ironworker,” Christopherson said. “He should be recognized for all he gave to this city. And the fact that Mrs. Goodman wants this memorial to be in remembrance for not just Ryan but all construction workers killed on the job in Kansas City — that’s nothing short of incredible.”
Goodman’s driving force to see the memorial through goes back to her daughters.
“Ryan was very proud of the work he did,” she said. “I hope this becomes a place we can sit when we take flowers. I hope we can look around at the buildings and be proud.”
To reach Caroline Bauman, call 816-234-4449 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.