There will soon be a lasting way to remember Western Hills High School students – past and present – who lost their lives far too soon.
Senior Mary Elizabeth Wood, 17, decided to construct a memorial garden last year as a project for her agriculture class.
She had a range of choices, from raising cattle to working at a greenhouse, but she wanted to help her school and create a lasting way to remember lost classmates, faculty and staff.
“I think that that’s important for the history of our school and the community,” she said before Friday’s official groundbreaking.
“It hadn’t been started yet, so I decided that it was time and that I wanted to take it on.”
During Wood’s time at WHHS, two students have died.
Waseeq Shahid, a freshman, died in 2009 at basketball tryouts. The 15-year-old was running sprints across the gym when he suffered cardiac arrest caused by several undetected heart defects.
Trista Shoemaker, 17, died in 2011 after a car accident at the intersection of Green Wilson Road and U.S. 127. Officials said a driver distracted by his cell phone caused the wreck, and a judge later sentenced him to community service.
“The idea of a memorial garden kind of started after both of those events took place, and I decided to take it on as a project,” Wood said.
“I may not have been the closest to the students, but I certainly feel the impact it had on those who were close to them and their families … it really makes you want to do something, not only for awareness of the cause of their deaths, but for me it was something of a remembrance.”
Brenda Scruggs, a retired math teacher, died in May after a battle with cancer. Her colleagues have already pledged to donate to the garden in her memory, Wood said.
Those three names and others will be engraved on stones placed in the center of the garden. Wood said she would like to memorialize all students and staff who have died in the school’s history; so far about 10 names are on the list, she said.
Wood’s mother, Lisa, was by her side Friday, along with agriculture teacher J.R. Zinner, Principal Rita Rector and WHHS agriculture students.
Trista Shoemaker’s mother, B.J. Doss, turned the first ceremonial shovel of dirt. She was accompanied by close family friend Dalton Chaney and Amber McCoy, Trista’s sister who was with her at the time of the wreck.
“When I think of flowers, like daisies, I think of Trista because she loved daisies and pink roses – I miss that little girl,” Doss said.
“I’m so excited (about the garden), but I’m sad that we have to do something like this.”
Doss said she’s looking forward to helping with the garden. She plans to donate a weeping cherry tree – the same type of tree she planted at home in her daughter’s memory – and other plants.
She said she hopes the garden can give comfort to people who are grieving the loss of a loved one.
“I don’t think anything really helps you – Trista’s death has pretty much devastated me,” she said.
“Every day is a struggle and some days I don’t know how I get through, but I think the garden will help a little. I think you can come and just sit and remember everybody that’s passed and touched people’s hearts.”
Wood, who dreams of being a pediatric oncologist someday, says she knows the garden will be a big project. She spent last school year planning the garden, gaining approval from school officials and raising money for supplies.
This year is all about construction. Wood hopes to have the garden complete by the end of the school year or soon after.
The focus is on WHHS students, she said, but the garden will also be open to faculty, staff and the community when it’s finished.
“It is a community garden, and we want it to be known that people are welcome to sit and visit and reflect,” she said.
Wood has planned the plants so they bloom at different times, so the garden is vibrant throughout the year.
She is seeking donations for plants and other supplies. To help, email Wood at email@example.com or call WHHS agriculture teacher J.R. Zinner at 875-8400.