EAST HARRIET — Clara Barton Open School celebrated the life of teacher Felicity Crosby on the morning of May 26 by unveiling the Felicity Memorial Native Garden.
Crosby passed away last September after an accident while riding her horse. She had begun the school year teaching both 3rd- and 4th-grade students.
“I think it was hard for kids to deal with that kind of loss,” former Barton principal Steve DeLapp said. “Especially her 4th graders who were coming back for another year with her.”
At the open school, teachers have students for two years. Crosby was teaching her 4th graders for the second year and her 3rd graders for the first time.
Past and present parents of Crosby’s students came together wanting to help her students mourn her loss. Because of Crosby’s passion for teaching her students about native ecosystems, they decided to create a native garden and name it in her honor.
For the 21 years that she taught there, Crosby drove over an hour both ways between Barton and her hobby farm north of the Twin Cities. She was very passionate about nature and would often bring parts of the farm into her classroom, whether it was through different lessons and projects or bringing in some of her chickens.
Every year she took her students camping and had them plant native grasses as a part of prairie restoration. She also included her students in the Barton Plant Sale, a fundraiser for the school. Every Friday, her students sold popcorn to the rest of the school, and at the end of the school year the money would be donated to charity.
The memorial garden was designed with the input of Crosby’s students, who helped decide what features they thought best represented her. Students were asked to draw pictures that remindedthem of Crosby. Karen Savage, artist and Barton parent,took these drawings and transformed them into a mosaic on one of the walls of the garden.
“All of the kids participated so much in this,” parent Brenda Johnson said.
Native plants were placed in the garden, including plants to attract butterflies. The garden was designated a monarch way station.
A lending library in the shape of a barn was also put in the garden. Students wanted there to be a horse in it because of Crosby’s love for horses, so they placed an antique iron horse inside.
A peace pole planted in the area 30 years ago was restored and states, “May peace prevail on Earth” in English, Somali, Spanish and Japanese. On top of the pole is a horse weather vane, which the students requested because of a similar one on Crosby’s farm.
“Everything in there is so her,” Johnson said. “She was wild about her horses and reading and Winnie the Pooh. Walking through there just screams Felicity.”
Her family donated a granite bench with an inscription from “Winnie the Pooh”: “Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.”
“When an individual student gets the full attention of a very busy teacher, know that it’s rooted in love and affection for that individual,” DeLapp said in the written document of his speech online. “This was Felicity’s preferred and most common teaching interaction, day-in and day-out.”
After the ribbon was cut to the garden during the dedication ceremony, Crosby’s students were the first to spill into the space that they had put so much thought into. The garden was put together with the effort of the community: Crosby’s students, Barton parents, Crosby’s family and Barton staff.
“It’s a powerful story of a community coming together to honor Felicity,” DeLapp said.
An iron horse symbolizes Crosby’s love of riding. Submitted image