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  November 17, 2003

Child Labs Kiosk A Memorial To
Preschooler Who Loved Reading

A little girl who loved reading and rainbows will be remembered in a special way at the UConn Child Development Laboratories.

Image: Jeff Brown

Jeff Brown, a visiting assistant professor of art, designed the Yssis Neubeck Memorial. Behind him, his son Jonas Brown, left, and classmate Lucas Bladen pass a book through the slot.

Photo by Dollie Harvey

Yssis Neubeck, who died in summer 2002 at the age of four, will live on through the Yssis Neubeck Memorial, a reading kiosk located in the Child Labs' playground.

The youngster attended the program from infancy through preschool. She died of Reye's Syndrome. Her mother, Kara Neubeck, a UConn alum, Class of 2001, attended Child Labs in the 1970s.

When they lost Yssis, her grandparents Mary Alice and Ken Neubeck wanted to do something in her memory at the Child Labs. "She loved reading and the outdoors, so we thought about a bench and a little garden," says Mary Alice Neubeck.

That idea blossomed when, fortuitously, they met Jeff Brown, a visiting assistant professor of art whose sons attend Child Labs.

One day last year, Brown noticed his oldest son passing a note to his youngest through a chain link fence separating two outdoor play areas.

"I thought this could be an opportunity to make a series of interactive wall play elements to replace the fence," he says. "These elements would keep the two play areas separate, while allowing for interactive crossover through play."

It's not surprising that Brown would find the situation engaging: he is an architect. He earned an undergraduate degree in architecture from Cooper Union, and a master's degree from Yale. He studied under John Hejduk at Cooper Union and with renowned architect Frank Gehry at Yale, whose design recently won the competition for UConn's new fine arts complex.

Brown sat down with the Neubecks, their daughter, and administrators Charlotte Madison and Deborah Adams at the Child Labs to discuss the possibility of designing an interactive reading and play area as a memorial to Yssis.

"I wanted to know more about Yssis and what she liked early on, and I found out that she loved rainbows and books," says Brown, who designed and built the project on his own time. The Neubecks were delighted with the idea.

"One of the loves that I shared with her is the love of reading," says Mary Alice Neubeck, who is director of program planning and undergraduate studies in the School of Family Studies. "Yssis and I would have special trips to the library and haul back so many books to read together. Our granddaughter also loved the outdoors, so having a special reading area outside fits well with who she was."

Ken Neubeck, professor emeritus of sociology, says, "we are all in awe at the thought, creativity and labor going into it. It will be a wonderful gift to the children at the Child Labs."

The Yssis Memorial is made of steel, wood, Lexan, a high-performance plastic, and colored plexiglass. The structure has two curved benches on either side of a transparent wall with a book slot - for sharing books - suspended in the center. A 'light layer trellis' tops the structure, collecting light and transmitting it through the colored panels, producing a rainbow effect on the children as they read. The letters of Yssis' name, crafted of half-inch thick steel, are used for the supporting brackets to hold up the entire light layer trellis.

"This 'living' memorial celebrates Yssis' love of the Childlabs and bears witness to her families' love and continued memory of her," Brown says. A dedication ceremony was held November 15.

Brown hopes to expand the memorial to include areas for visual arts, dramatic play and puppetry, and music.

Funds are still needed to purchase ground cover and some finishing touches on the structure. Donations are welcome. Checks may be made out to the UConn Foundation, with 'Yssis Neubeck Memorial Fund' in the memo line, and sent to 2390 Alumni Drive, U3206, Storrs, CT 06269.