Upcoming exhibit educates, memorializes professor

Tyler Prochazka

Even in death, the late agriculture professor David Coffey’s influence is still evident, and will soon be on full display.

Coffey died in March from an illness at 64 years old.

This semester, WKU will open an exhibit dedicated to Coffey and his connections to Ecuador. Coffey organized several Study Abroad trips to Ecuador and had many connections to the country which will be reflected in the exhibit. A collection of Ecuadorian art and maps will be showcased, in addition to interviews with those who knew Coffey.


Gallery Director Kristina Arnold is helping her gallery studies class organize the exhibit. She said the sheer scope of the project to memorialize Coffey’s life has made the exhibit a challenge for the students.

“We are sort of building the bridge as we are crossing over it at the same time,” Arnold said.

The exhibit coincides with the Year of Ecuador, a year-long program spear-headed by Coffey meant to spread knowledge about Ecuador.

“It is currently the Year of Ecuador, which is a major project he was working on, and unfortunately he passed away before he could see it realized,” Arnold said.

Arnold said her students have had to work hard to prepare information about Ecuador for the exhibit.

“We are trying to figure out what this exhibition is because it is lots of different things,” Arnold said. “In a sense it is a memorial, in a sense it is a celebration. But it is also, we are trying to educate campus about Ecuador, and the first thing we need to do is educate ourselves.” 

Bowling Green sophomore Megan Meredith is working on creating the introduction for the exhibit. She said it will include an overview of Coffey’s life as well as his travels and students.

“Through the interviews I just want to know more about his personality, and just what they feel was the most important thing that David had done that had affected them in their lives,” Meredith said.

Dan Myers, associate professor of economics, was one of those affected by Coffey. He said that Coffey was his mentor and friend for over a decade and that many others considered him the same.

“I don’t know that I know anybody who has such a strong bond and following with such a large group of students,” Myers said.

One of the intersections between Coffey and Ecuador is that the exhibit will showcase Coffey’s collection of masks that he gifted to WKU. Coffey’s gifting of the masks was in fact what started this entire project, Arnold said.

Champaign, Illinois graduate student Alena Cieszko said she is working to prepare the masks to be taken in by the Kentucky Museum.

“That’s the hard part. There isn’t a lot of scholarship on Ecuadorian masks,” she said.

Bowling Green senior Mailey Young is putting together a “student experience” panel and will take excerpts from Facebook posts and pictures of Coffey. Young said that several of Coffey’s former students said they are willing to provide their pictures and help with the exhibit.

“That says a lot about David that they are wanting to help on this exhibition so much,” Young said.

Arnold said that many of the students that were involved in the exhibit had “one degree of separation” from Coffey, even though they didn’t know him themselves.

“One of the things is as people are looking at his pictures, they are seeing their friends,” Arnold said.

Myers said Coffey had a large influence on many people and “oftentimes he did things to help individuals grow.”

In his own experience, Myers said Coffey’s international experience helped him not only begin leading his own Study Abroad trips, but also with seeing different cultures in new lights.

Myers said Coffey taught him to be more open and accepting of people and cultures.

Coffey’s influence didn’t stop at the border either. Myers said that Coffey helped bring power to a town in Ecuador and even helped one of the locals from Ecuador come to WKU.

But Myers said when Coffey wasn’t changing lives, he was making them laugh.

“He liked to push buttons and just sit back and watch, no matter what group of people you were talking about,” Myers said.

For Arnold, she said she hopes the exhibit captures not only Coffey, but helps to educate others about Coffey’s biggest passion.

“I feel like this exhibit memorializes David in multiple ways,” Arnold said. “Number one, it talks about him specifically. But he was an educator through and through. Students talk about him as being one of their favorite teachers as testament to that. And for us I feel like we are picking up the ball and running with it and just trying to educate people about Ecuador.”