Merced County Times Newspaper
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New Merced College plaza, sculpture to be unveiled

The ninth annual State of the College event at Merced College returns Tuesday, May 30, with a celebration of the Isakow Family and the unveiling of the new Hermione Isakow Plaza.

The event will feature President Chris Vitelli’s State of the College address, along with the presentation of the President’s Medallion Award — which recognizes the college’s greatest supporters — to the Isakow family. Tickets and sponsorships are still available and can be purchased online at:

The plaza, where the event will be held, is envisioned as a welcoming space for the community and campus visitors, a gathering place for students and the campus community, a unique learning space for the college’s arts program, and an intimate outdoor location for events.

“The State of the College event is our opportunity to let the community know about all the innovative initiatives happening at Merced College, and to honor a family who has made such a generous contribution to our district,” Vitelli said. “The Hermione Isakow Plaza is a beautiful addition to our Merced campus, providing an engaging new space that will be enjoyed by students and community members alike for decades to come.”

After living most of her life in South Africa, Hermione Isakow and her husband Leiz moved to Merced in 2010 to be closer to their eldest son Isaac and his family. Hermione’s final years were clouded by a long bout with amyloidosis, and she died in 2020. In 2021, her sons chose to honor her memory and her contributions to their lives through a $1 million gift to fund the design and construction of the Hermione Isakow Plaza near the front of the campus.

The centerpiece of the plaza is a large sculpture of a Baobab tree, which carries great symbolic significance in Africa and is known as the “tree of life,” because it produces fruit and nectar year-round and stores large amounts of water in its trunk, even in very dry climates.

Scott and Madelyn McGrath of McGrath Arts in Mariposa designed and built the 4,100-pound, galvanized steel sculpture, which stands at 15 feet tall and includes branches that span 20 feet. The tree is decorated with 3,000 hand-forged metal leaves, orb-shaped fruits, whydah birds, parrots, an owl in a lighted knothole, and 30 lighted flowers. The 6-foot-wide trunk is textured to represent holes made by elephants to pull water from the giant succulent.

For more assistance about tickets and sponsorships, contact Grace Mendoza at (209) 381-6471 for assistance.

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