John Plachetka received a mailer from his alma mater announcing plans for an exterior beautification project, and calling for alumni contributions. He phoned the development office and inquired about funding the entire exterior renovation project, including an endowment for maintenance. He also asked about the potential for a quirky piece of art.
And when he finally saw his 12-ton mortar-and-pestle sculpture sitting in front of the College of Pharmacy building at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he flashed a wide grin.
“The UIC campus is no-nonsense and serviceable,” Plachetka notes. But his $500,000 gift allowed some outdoor art “celebrating a symbol of pharmacy at one of the nation’s top pharmacy schools. And, to steal a line from Chevy Chase, ‘Who wouldn’t want to see the largest mortar and pestle in the Western Hemisphere?’ ”
This offbeat artifact has quickly become part of the college’s identity. Students place carved pumpkins around it during Halloween. They decorate it for Christmas.
“There’s a serious element to the gift,” says Plachetka. “It improves the college’s image. But life’s too short to be serious all the time. When you see this sculpture, you can’t help but smile. It’s a reminder that giving can be serious and fun at the same time.”