When the Whistle Blows

When the Whistle Blows

When the Whistle Blows

By Kristen Bailey UPDATED April 3, 2018

The Georgia Tech community is always deeply saddened to lose one of its own. In 2001, a group of concerned students, faculty, and staff realized the community did not have a way to collectively honor those who pass away. Thus, a new tradition began.

steam whistle blows on campus

Near the end of each spring semester, When the Whistle Blows honors the memory of enrolled students and employees of the Institute who died during the previous year. The names of honorees are published in the Technique and the Whistle prior to the event. This year’s event on April 4 will honor 19 members of the campus community.

The simple ceremony offers a solemn tribute at Harrison Square, in the shadow of Tech Tower. A unity candle is lit to represent the entire Georgia Tech community, and a family representative is invited to light a candle on behalf of their loved one. Each family also receives a small gift of remembrance from Georgia Tech.

Reverend Steve Fazenbaker, director of the Wesley Foundation, provides an opening message at the ceremony each year. He considers it an honor to participate and an important aspect of campus life.

“It is so important that we recognize the loss our campus community experiences when a student, faculty member, or staff member dies,” he said. “Because we each have our own traditions and ways of dealing with the death of those close to us, it can be tricky to plan a ceremony that addresses everyone's needs and expectations. The diversity of faith traditions on campus makes the task that much harder.”

Though the Wesley Foundation has a religious affiliation, the ceremony does not.

“By including a chaplain in the ceremony, Georgia Tech acknowledges the spiritual side of death and loss. At the same time, we make sure we avoid deference to any one particular religious tradition in the opening reflection, so that the words might be meaningful to all in attendance regardless of background," Fazenbaker said.

Tech’s iconic steam whistle is blown once for each member of the community being honored that day. Before the whistle breaks the evening silence, the alma mater is played to remind those present of our time at Tech and to relay the hope that we will always be united as a community.

photos of When the Whistle Blows ceremony

(L-R) A family member lights a candle from the unity candle. President G.P. "Bud" Peterson addresses attendees at the 2016 ceremony. A bagpiper leads attendees to Harrison Square.

Keeping the Whistle with You

Each family receives a replica of Tech’s iconic steam whistle, a memento that was designed and created on campus by the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) Machine Shop and College of Design’s Digital Fabrication Lab. The Machine Shop has been making the whistles since 2006, after the shop’s manager, Dennis Brown, attended the ceremony and left wanting to create a special token for the families.

“He came back really wanting to take the lead on making something nice and meaningful for people,” said Dennis Denney, director of GTRI Machine Services. The original mementos were made of brass and affixed to a small marble base.

A new base was designed in 2016 by Jake Tompkins, manager of the Digital Fabrication Lab and a Tech alumnus. The base is made of Corian, a durable, solid material that provides a white contrast to the gold whistle replica. The round base has a gear pattern to evoke memories of Tech. It is cut in two parts on a CNC cutter and glued together to give it additional weight and thickness.

“It’s important, and we want it to feel important,” Tompkins said of designing part of the memento. “We know this is handed to families by the president, and it’s going to be with them for years to come.”

The nameplates are waterjet cut from gold anodized aluminum and then laser etched before being affixed to the Corian base. The whistle itself is also anodized aluminum. It is spun on a CNC lathe and designed to scale from exact drawings of Tech’s original steam whistle.

The bottom of the base bears an inscription taken from “A Tribute to the Whistle,” which first appeared in the 1914 edition of Tech’s Blueprint:

Blow on, stern Monarch of Tech's mighty crew,
Be always firm and staid:
To your compelling call we'll e're be true
Til each his part has played.

“It’s all about intentionality. The bottom isn’t something a lot of people look at, but we don’t want it to be an afterthought,” Tompkins said.

The sound of the whistle is part of daily life at Tech, as were those members of the community honored at the event. Each time the whistle sounds in the days following the event, it serves as a reminder of the students, faculty, and staff members held in our memories.

 

See how the whistles are made in the GTRI Machine Shop and Digital Fabrication Lab

replica of steam whistle

The finished whistle given to families at When the Whistle Blows. Photos by Rob Felt

This year's honorees include:
 

Ruth Bakatukanda
Undergraduate Student
College of Engineering

Marvin Brewer
Custodian
Facilities

Kaden Campbell
Undergraduate Student
Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts

Bryan Church
Professor
Scheller College of Business

Ruth Driver
Custodian
Facilities

Carla East
Administrative Professional
College of Engineering

Taylor Garmon
Undergraduate Student
College of Sciences

Ronald Harley
Regents Professor
College of Engineering

Glenda Harris
Community Support Supervisor
Housing Office

Anzhelika Ivanova
Undergraduate Student
College of Engineering

Frederick Jones
IT Support Professional
Office of Information Technology

Dongha Kang
Graduate Student
College of Engineering

Shuyi Li
Graduate Student
College of Design

Shawn Malone
Electrical Engineer
Georgia Tech Research Institute

Tessa Powers
Undergraduate Student
College of Engineering

Patrick Price
Custodian
Facilities

Scout Schultz
Undergraduate Student
College of Engineering

Connor Shiver
Undergraduate Student
Scheller College of Business

Andrew Whitlock
Systems Support Engineer
Georgia Tech Research Institute