Bowers plans garden for boys killed

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By Katie Hogin

Bowers Elementary School is planning a memorial garden for two students who were killed in a  car accident this year.

Gage and Jackson Brown, who were in the fourth and first grade, respectively, were killed along with their mother and infant brother in a fiery accident on Hwy. 61 in late August.

“We thought it would be appropriate — since we have a new entrance to the building — if we establish
a memory garden in their honor, so we’ll have it forever,” said Principal Candace Lett. “Right now we’re just in the planning stage.”

First-grade teacher Lisa Qualls taught Jackson in her classroom. Her son was best friends with him, while her daughter was friends with Gage.

Qualls is the chairman of the committee to coordinate plans for the garden with Lett and other teachers.
Beth Crass taught Gage in the fourth grade.

She said the idea for a garden started during a balloon release at a Sept. 28 memorial ceremony on what would have been Gage’s 10th birthday.

“We just felt like we needed to do something,” Qualls said.

The boys’ grandparents  had wanted to set up something, too, and other relatives have given contributions. So have students and other community members. Some parents had donated during the school’s open house.
Lett, who has already purchased the plaque with both of the boys’ names, said they have received a lot of suggestions on how the memorial garden would be set up.

“I like those Japanese maple trees because they’re so pretty, and they’re not real big,” Lett said. “We thought we might do that and maybe put a bench, just some place that looks peaceful and inviting.”

The garden will be set up at the entrance of the school, where their fall decorations currently are placed and where “everyone’ll have to see it,” Lett said.

Qualls described how the accident impacted her class.

“It’s hard, but they’re doing OK,” she said.

“The day of the ceremony, some of the family members spoke and read a poem, and one of the little girls in my room read a poem,” Qualls said. “I had written the poem, but I couldn’t do it. I tried to do it with them in the class, and I just couldn’t handle it. She’s a really good reader and I said, ‘Would you do it?’ and she loved the idea.

“But bless her heart, she was so torn up there. She just cried the whole time she read it.”

Qualls said coping with the death of one of her students has been “definitely the most devastating thing I’ve ever went through teaching.”

During the memorial ceremony, first-grade teacher Christy Ruskey and her class placed letters among the hundreds of green and purple balloons released.

They soon received two letters back — from Bristol, Va., and Williamsville, Va. — from people who recovered balloons.

Donations are still being accepted for Gage and Jackson’s memorial garden, which Lett hopes to have ready by Thanksgiving.