The family of a construction worker killed during the University Theatre renovation more than a decade ago anticipates the University of Montana’s plans to display a plaque honoring their deceased loved one will bring closure.
“The university never extended condolences to me or my family and now I feel they have and it feels good,” said Traci Dukes, the wife of Keith Dukes, who was killed in 1998.
Dukes, 38, a carpenter working for Sirius Construction, was installing new rafter beams in the University Theatre above the stage when the 40-foot scaffolding he was standing on collapsed.
The federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration fined Sirius Construction more than $100,000 for violations stemming from the incident.
Memories of Dukes’ death surfaced recently when UM announced plans to rename the University Theatre after George and Jane Dennison, the longest-serving university president and his wife. Dennison oversaw many construction projects on campus during his tenure, among them the renovation of the University Theatre. Not only is the theater a campus showpiece, but it was one of Dennison’s first renovations.
Upset that UM would recognize anyone for a project where a father of five children died, Dukes wrote a letter to the Montana Board of Regents expressing her disappointment. While she didn’t mind the university naming a building after Dennison, it seemed inappropriate to recognize someone for achievements on a renovation project where a man died, she said.
On the way to the regents’ November meeting, President Royce Engstrom, who didn’t work in Montana at the time of the incident, called Dukes to say that the university planned to display a plaque memorializing her husband.
“I was really surprised,” she said. “I’m thinking it will go a long ways toward healing and it’s a nice gesture.”
No longer is Dukes upset by UM renaming the University Theatre the George and Jane Dennison Theatre.
It’s unknown exactly when the plaque will be unveiled, but it’s likely that it will take place in May during a ceremony when the university will rename the building.