LMH Health’s rooftop garden, complete with new mural, provides space for fresh air and sunshine
photo by: Courtney Bernard/LMH Health Foundation
Nate Penny is remembered by many in the Lawrence community as a beloved and hardworking friend.
The son of Bill and Marlene Penny, Nate played football for Lawrence High School and the University of Kansas. He worked for his family’s business, Penny’s Concrete, for many years and coached high school football.
After Nate died in August 2020, Bill and Marlene Penny became aware of the hospital’s wish to renovate the rooftop garden at LMH Health’s main campus. They made a generous gift to the LMH Health Foundation toward that project in honor of Nate.
“We chose the rooftop garden project because of a desire and need for patients, employees, medical staff and visitors to have a welcoming place to enjoy an outdoor environment,” said Marlene Penny. “Our son loved the outdoors and we wanted to contribute to this project.”
Fundraising for the rooftop garden continued over the next year, with community and medical staff support helping to finish funding the project.
“I have long hoped to move this project ahead, and I’m so pleased with the timing of the Pennys’ gift,” said Russ Johnson, LMH Health president and CEO. “As we think about ways in which to show appreciation for our hardworking employees, we hope this project will provide an opportunity to bring some fresh air and sunlight into their day.”
The rooftop garden renovation was completed in May. The final piece was a large mural called “Kansas Symphony of Seasons” painted by local artist Louis Copt.
Copt and the Pennys are longtime friends, going back to their high school years together. The Pennys personally selected Copt as the muralist for the rooftop garden project. Their only request was that the mural must be a Kansas landscape.
Copt took four of his existing paintings — all real locations around Lawrence and Kansas — and put them together to create the mural. The Kansas scene transitions from winter, spring, summer and fall.
“The winter scene is looking from the Lecompton Bridge where the Delaware River flows into the Kansas River, and the red barn is the one near the intersection of Kasold and the farmer’s turnpike in Lawrence,” Copt said. “The wildflowers you see are all native to Kansas.”
Copt worked on the mural for several weeks starting in March. He said he was touched by all the employees and patients who came out and told him what a difference the mural made.
“For patients to be able to come outside and see the work, it really lifted their spirits,” Copt said. “I can’t tell you how many people came up and said nice things to me; it was really heartwarming and something I didn’t expect. It’s just amazing how many people the mural touched.”
Dr. Jon Heeb, a urologist at LMH Health, and his wife, Barb, made a significant gift in support of the rooftop project and the mural. The Heebs also know Copt and personally own some of his work.
“It was the perfect project to support because Barb and I love the outdoors, the Penny family, Louis’ work and LMH Health,” Heeb said. “Additionally, Barb and I enjoyed the same outdoor space 24 years ago when she was in labor with our son.”
Heeb said he is already seeing the benefits of the newly renovated rooftop garden.
“The rooftop garden revival project and the mural have provided a wonderful, welcoming space for both staff and patients alike to get a breath of fresh air and a little bit of sunshine in a place that is otherwise often associated with illness and hard work,” Heeb said.
Jennifer Lemus, a clinical nursing manager in the LMH Health emergency department, said that the rooftop garden is a good place for staff to step away and take a break from a busy day.
“I hope to take a few minutes to regularly go out there and get rejuvenated now that it’s complete,” Lemus said. “The mural is mesmerizing and takes me back to my childhood growing up in the country.”
Accessibility to the rooftop garden was another priority during the project. A gift from the LMH Health medical staff made possible the installation of a wheelchair lift so everyone can access the space.
“It is our hope that many people will benefit from the rooftop garden for years to come,” Bill Penny said. “As Nate would say, ‘Love wins!'”
The public is invited to visit the rooftop garden and the Louis Copt mural by taking the “gold door” elevators near the hospital’s gift shop, up to the third floor.
— Courtney Bernard is a development coordinator for LMH Health Foundation.