MINOOKA — Students and staff from Minooka Community High School, as well as others from the Minooka community, will soon have a location to remember and memorialize their peers that have passed on too soon.
The National Honor Society at MCHS has decided to create a Memorial Garden for those students — past, present and future — on the east side of Minooka's Central Campus, facing S. Wabena Avenue.
"Our idea is to have it in place before this senior class graduates," NHS sponsor Donna Engel said.
In the fall of 2011, when the Minooka community suffered the loss of high school senior Mitch Fajman, the NHS started brainstorming ways to honor Fajman at the school and in the community.
Two days after the NHS officers decided to pursue the Memorial Garden, another Minooka senior, Allison Rivera, passed away, Engel said. Rivera was a member of the NHS and was at that brainstorming meeting.
With the loss of now two Minooka High School students, the Memorial Garden transformed into a more "global" project that would be a tribute to all of the Minooka students — past, present and future.
"It will be one place to come and pay respects to everyone," Minooka senior and NHS member Michelle Landahl said.
Landahl was friends with Rivera and still keeps in touch with the Rivera family. She said the Memorial Garden will be a place for people that still miss Fajman, Rivera and other Minooka students who have passed away, but may not be close enough to families to grieve with them.
One day at lunch about two weeks before Rivera's untimely passing, she and Landahl started up a conversation about their biggest fears in life.
"Allie said her biggest fear was being forgotten," Landahl said. "She said 'One day I'll die, and I'll just be a name on a tombstone.'"
Landahl said the Memorial Garden will be a tribute to not forgetting her peers.
The Memorial Garden will have two berms, or raised ledges, filled with various plants and trees, Engel said.
One berm will have White Birch trees to symbolize new beginnings and "to shine," Engel said. That berm will also be filled with orange stella d'oro lilies.
"We want our garden to be a shining example of our school and NHS," Engel said.
The second berm will house crab apple trees, to symbolize healing and youth.
Korean lilac bushes will be planted along the side windows to represent renewal.
Since Rivera was an NHS member, she will have a special plant in the Memorial Garden.
"Allie loved bright colors," Engel said.
So, the members of NHS have decided to plant a bright pink knockout rose bush in Rivera's honor.
Engel said it is important for the community to see the Memorial Garden as a place to remember all Minooka students, not solely Fajman and Rivera.
"They were catalysts for this," Engel said. "It will also be an outdoor education resource for our classrooms."
The National Honor Society has their "big idea," but now they need to be able to fund it.
The NHS will host "A Walk in Memory 5K," from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 14, at the Central Campus, with the goal of raising $3,000. Members will collect donations for the Memorial Garden.
"I have 100 members in NHS," Engel said. "If each one raises $30, we'll have our $3,000."
The walk will be held on the one-mile-long limestone path at Central. Walkers will take three trips around the path for the 5K.
Engel said the goal is to begin the garden by Monday, April 23. NHS members will be planting and tending to it, but they will need outside help from professional landscapers for the parts of the job that involve heavy machinery.
"Bring your family, bring your dog," she said. "Every penny helps."
The first 100 walkers will receive a complimentary gift bag from Mary Kay, thanks to an MCHS parent. Doughnuts will also be served, compliments of Dunkin' Donuts.
"Both (Fajman and Rivera) were so socially diverse. Everyone knew at least one of them," Landahl said. "Whether you're grieving for Allie or you're grieving for Mitch, we're all grieving. Now we can together."