October 25, 2006

Students create garden to honor late classmate

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The poet Joyce Kilmer thought that he "would never see a poem as lovely as a tree," but for some agriculture education majors at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, a tree just wasn't enough to honor the memory of one of their fellow students.

"Kara (L. Gruenenfelder) liked horticulture a lot — it was her other love," said classmate Alicia M. Garcia.

"She was a giving person, and we wanted something more representative of her — something people could enjoy."

That desire for something "more representative" took root, producing Kara's Garden, a horseshoe of plants ringing a concrete bench out back behind the Agriculture Building. Designed and built by Travis N. Jumper, another classmate, the bench has her name incised upon it.

Gruenenfelder, a Highland native, was a senior in general agriculture specializing in agriculture education when she died last year in a car accident while on her way home from her student teaching assignment. The deans' list student, an active member of the Agriculture Education Club, the Block and Bridle Club, Collegiate Future Farmers of America and the Horticulture Club, received her degree posthumously during the University's spring commencement ceremonies in 2005.

Over the course of the last year, members of the Agriculture Education Club got donations for the plants and other supplies. In August, a handful of them contributed the labor that transformed dream into reality.

"The kids came in on a Saturday and spent a lot of time clearing the area out, " said Assistant Professor Dexter B. Wakefield, the club's adviser, who wielded a Weed Eater himself on the garden's behalf.

"They planted a lot of her favorite flowers. It looks real nice. We will have a dedication for it, probably in the spring."

Garcia said working on the garden had been "a great experience."

"To see it done is a lot different than just thinking about it in your head," she said.

"We've gotten a lot of compliments on it, though every now and then we get reminders that it needs watering."