Alumni Parents’ Gift of Gratitude Creates Campus Icons

  • Ravens Rewind
Alumni Parents’ Gift of Gratitude Creates Campus Icons
Stacy Calfo

Designed by Ken Mayer ’77 and dedicated on May 31, 1996, the Murphy Bell Tower and Arboretum anchored the ever-growing campus and inspired the design of buildings yet to come.

Scroll through Ravenscroft photos from the mid-’90s to today, and chances are there’s one campus feature standing tall in many of them: the Murphy Family Bell Tower and Arboretum. Given in recognition of the school’s remarkable impact on its students and families, they are quite possibly Ravenscroft’s most photographed structures.

Dedicated on May 31, 1996, the bell tower and its accompanying arbor of pink and yellow roses became a catalyst for the architectural design of the campus that stands today — a vision made possible by alumni parents Lynn and Pete Murphy and the project’s architect, Ken Mayer ’77.

As this photo from 2014 shows, the bell tower and arboretum provide a sense of connection and continuity between campus buildings separated by green space.

“The campus was already attractive, but we felt the [early 1990s] master plan was lacking something,” Pete Murphy recalled. “We envisioned a focal point to give it an even greater campus atmosphere. I had never seen any other private school with these features, and it occurred to us that a bell tower and arboretum would be a unique feature that made a statement about Ravenscroft.”

Read on for the story behind these now-iconic landmarks.

Pete and Lynn Murphy’s favorite flowers bloom along the soaring trellis in the arboretum, providing beautiful color throughout the spring and summer.

Two ravens sit atop the stone pillar in the center of the bell tower, the names of Marc Murphy ’94’s classmates memorialized on the plaque below.

“A statement piece”

As an early graduate of the North Raleigh campus and an architect who was involved in the 1990s-era campus master plan, Mayer, too, believed the growing campus could benefit from a striking architectural feature.

“When Ravenscroft started in downtown Raleigh, it was part of an Episcopal church with classic Gothic architecture,” Mayer explained. “When the campus moved to suburban Raleigh in the ’70s, the original buildings were precast concrete, and some had outside hallways — often a challenge in North Carolina weather. The Fine Arts Center [dedicated in 1993] was the school’s first departure from this ’70s-style architecture.”

In this photo from the Winter 2007 issue of Ravenscroft Magazine, Peyton Burgess ’11 sketches the familiar arches of the arboretum for a project in Eighth-Grade Art II.

The bell tower, he said, “was really the first attempt to move away from concrete buildings and to start designing the campus of today. The Murphys challenged us to create a statement piece that could really anchor the campus.”

“[Then-Director of Development] Mary Moss, Lynn and I walked all over campus to find the perfect spot,” Pete Murphy remembered. “We wanted the school to be on board 100%, so we really relied on their guidance for the location.”

“Now it looks like it was there forever”

In the end, the tower and rose arbor were built in the center of the campus, in an open space then used mostly as a cut-through to get from one side of campus to the other. Its bold red brick and steeply pitched slate roof have what Mayer called “a very traditional look and feel.”

“The idea was for it to be much more classic and stately — complete with a raven, bells and a clock — with a nod to the Gothic architecture of the school’s past,” he added.

At left, Sara Baende ’23 rings the tower’s bell as 2022-23’s First Day of School campus-wide gathering gets underway; at right, the entire Class of 2023 poses in front of the bell tower to mark the start of their senior year.

The arbor, which blooms with roses in the spring and leads visitors past what was then the Upper School (now the Middle School) to the athletic facilities housed in and around the A.E. Finley Activity Center, was also meaningful for the Murphys.

“The rose, and what it stands for, is our favorite flower,” Pete Murphy said. “We couldn’t just build a tower without completing the whole picture.”

Both the design and the placement of the bell tower and arboretum would prove to be inspired. As another building campaign was launched in the early 2000s, resulting in Murphy Hall Upper School, the Library and Technology Center (now the Keim Center for Innovation and Research), Winston Library and the Jones Health Center, the bell tower served as architectural inspiration — and continued to anchor the growing campus, now standing watch over a newly created campus green.

“When it was built, it stood out because it didn’t look like anything else on campus,” Mayer said. “Now it looks like it was there forever.”

“Ravenscroft is a family”

Today, many students, faculty and staff, families and alumni consider the bell tower and arboretum to be a very visible anchor of their experiences at Ravenscroft, whether it’s hearing the bell ring as a call to schoolwide gatherings, a treasured backdrop for senior and graduation photos, or a convenient landmark for orienting themselves on an ever-changing campus.

“I remember the first time I stepped onto campus back in 2012. I was new to the school and to the United States, and I was excited. I remember seeing the bell tower. My second-grade self saw students that were much older than me ringing it, and I wondered if maybe one day I would be chosen to ring it,” Sara Baende ’23 recalled. “When senior year rolled around, I was ecstatic to hear that I would be ringing the bell for our senior parade. It was a truly full-circle moment for me.”

“The Murphy Bell Tower and Arboretum created a very powerful focus point for our school community,” Athletic Director Ned Gonet added. “The generosity of the Murphy family can be celebrated by the many areas of campus they supported over the years, and their care, concern and true dedicated legacy of support will forever be appreciated and documented throughout the history of Ravenscroft.”

For the Murphys, these sentiments are another reflection of Ravenscroft’s strong sense of community, which is what inspired their gift to the school back in the mid-’90s.

Marc ’94, Lynn, Pete and Stratton Murphy pose together after the dedication of the bell tower and arboretum on May 31, 1996, in this photo from the 1996 Corvus.

The Murphys — Stratton, Lynn, Pete and Marc ’94 — remain connected to Ravenscroft today, with Marc’s children enrolled in the Lower School.

“Our youngest son, Marc ’94, transferred to Ravenscroft as a sophomore and found an immediate connection with the academics, athletics and his classmates,” Pete Murphy said. “It brought it full circle to have an alumnus design it — and that really speaks to the history of the school. Ravenscroft is a family.”

As both a planner and an alum, Mayer, who is vice president at Greensboro-based CPL, said he’s gratified by the mark his work has made.

“Viewing how the school has developed since the bell tower was built has been great. They’ve done a great job tying in the past with the present,” he said. “The vision that the Murphys had, and the school had, with this relatively small project has impacted the entire campus today.”

“Now our grandkids are enrolled at Ravenscroft in first and fourth grades, so every time we walk on campus, we’ll be reminded of the tremendous impact the school made in Marc’s life,” Pete Murphy concluded. “It really touches our hearts that Ravenscroft allowed us to leave this lasting impression with the school.”


In 1993, the Murphy family provided funding for landscaping around the new Fine Arts Center, shown here in 2015.

The bell tower and arboretum aren’t the only campus landmarks made possible by Pete and Lynn Murphy’s dedication to Ravenscroft.

In 1993, they provided funding for the landscaping around the Fine Arts Center — the school’s first new building since 1974.

Just a few years after the dedication of the bell tower and arboretum, a challenge grant the Murphys issued as part of the school’s $12.5M “Bold Initiatives” capital campaign helped energize donors and led to the new Upper School building being named in their honor. That gift also included funding for athletics as part of the later “Charge to Victory” campaign.

Read more about the transformational impact of these gifts and many others made by Ravenscroft’s loyal supporters in this story from Fall 2019, “Supporters Turn Determination and Philanthropy Into a Legacy of Innovation.”

The senior class gathers in front of the newly dedicated Murphy Hall Upper School in this photo from the 2002 Corvus.