Friends and family of Natalie Waldinger came together Saturday to build a staircase in Nichols Arboretum to commemorate the 1998 University graduate who died in January while working in Tanzania for the Peace Corps.

Local friends collaborated with those from New York and San Francisco to begin work on the project.

“A couple of weeks after Natalie died we realized we had to do something, she meant a lot to us. We wanted to make a memorial, she always did services to clean up, and always put her friends to work,” said Amy Fischer, a first-year aerospace engineering graduate student.

After much organization and preparation, a team of volunteers planned to create a permanent, concrete memory for their friend.

Approximately 40 people gathered to lay the foundation of the project. They said they anticipate the staircase will be complete by the onset of summer.

“We are starting this project with the group most involved with Natalie, then utilizing other student volunteer groups,” said April Pickrel, the project coordinator.

Pickrel remembers the extensive work that Waldinger did in the Arb, as well as urging her friends to volunteer with clean up projects.

Co-organizer and 2000 graduate Tia Sutton finds irony in Waldinger”s past efforts.

“It”s kind of funny, because when Natalie started community service, she always put us out to work. Now this is the third time, and Natalie still made us come out,” she said.

The College of Engineering is donating the materials necessary to execute the project, Fischer said.

The building of the staircase is expected to run smoothly, weather permitting. The ground may be frozen, making it difficult to dig steps out of a hill and put in a sloped staircase, Sutton said.

“When the weather clears up, we will install a memorial bench,” she said.

While the excitement of finalizing this long-awaited project was apparent in the attitudes of Waldinger”s friends and family, her father said he does not believe that she would approve of this effort.

“She would hate it. She didn”t do things to seek personal recognition she did things that had to be done,” said Paul Waldinger.

He described his daughter as a one with a kind persona and charitable deeds.

“She touched the heart of everyone she came in contact with, not only her friends and at home, but worldwide,” Waldinger said.

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