A Sacred Space for Reflection and a Tool for Learning
Dunbar's Memorial Garden celebrates 10 years.
On Dunbar’s campus, there lies an enclosure of native Kentucky flowers, shrubs and trees–a nature sanctuary that houses not only greenery, but also serves as a peaceful and meditative space.
The Memorial Garden was conceived by two former Dunbar students, Jesse Higginbotham and Hannah Landers, who were founding members of the Gay-Straight Alliance, a club that was approved at Dunbar in 2006 and was initially sponsored by Mrs. Wendy Turner.
Higginbotham and Landers, along with other members of the club, asked administration for permission to create the garden after their friend, Josh Shipman, committed suicide in 2006. They wanted to honor not only Shipman’s memory, but also the memory of other students and teachers who had passed.
In a cruel twist of fate, Higginbotham died in April 2007 in a car accident on the way to school. After his death, Jesse’s parents, Jerome Higginbotham and Rebecca Woloch, spearheaded the project that was so dear to their son’s heart.
The Memorial Garden was approved by the Fayette County School Board on June 25, 2007. Construction on the garden began soon after, and the work completed by student volunteers and community members included clearing the space, tilling the soil, laying pavers, fertilizing, and of course, planting.
Mr. Jim Adams was close to Higginbotham, and he described him as a very bright young man. “I don’t think he ever disliked anyone…he was just a good friend to everybody.”
Mr. Adams said that he treated Higgingbotham like his own son. On the day of Higginbotham’s death, Mr. Adam said, “I was crying so hard I could not get my keys to open the door.”
When the idea of the Memorial Garden was first mentioned, Mr. Adam said he had concerns that people would disrespect those grounds. Later, he said that he began to see it as a blessing to everyone.
Not long after the garden was established, Hannah Landers, one of the founding members and volunteers, died in a car accident in May 2008.
English teacher and current Gay-Straight Alliance sponsor, Mrs. Amber Faris, was very close to Landers. Mrs. Faris met Landers during her first year of teaching, and was inspired to become involved in the Gay-Straight Alliance. Faris said that Landers was like a little sister to her, and she even read a poem at Mrs. Faris’ wedding.
The last day Mrs. Faris saw Landers was the day before the accident, but she said that her husband had spoken with Landers in the hallway just before she left Dunbar.
In May 2017, Dunbar student and basketball player Star Ifeacho, passed away during an open gym at school after he collapsed abruptly in the locker room. A native plant named “Blue Star” is dedicated to Ifeacho, and is maintained in the garden.
The garden is filled with plants such as Sweet Bay Magnolia, American Linden, Pawpaw and Blue Lobelia. These beautiful plants attract insects such as Monarch butterflies that are cared for by Jesse’s mother, Rebecca Woloch. In addition to the variety of plants, the garden also has several decorations such as totem poles and colored stepping stones created by Dunbar art classes.
Over the years, several classes at Dunbar have taken the opportunity to decorate, plan and design, and do peaceful writing in the garden. Higginbotham and Woloch said that they are excited when teachers approach them about using the garden as a learning and teaching environment.
Clubs are also involved in the maintenance of the garden. BYSC just added a new bench made from bottle caps and recyclables was recently added and dedicated to the class of 2017, and members of the Beta Club volunteer on Saturdays.
The Memorial Garden started with a few small plants. However, it has grown into a colorful masterpiece over the past years. Every Saturday, from 10 a.m. to noon, Mr. Higginbotham meets with volunteers to work in the garden, helping to keep plants healthy all year round. In May they host the annual plant sale of Kentucky native plants from the garden.
During the school day, students are free to visit the outskirts of the garden. The Memorial Garden is meant to be a place where students can come to find peace, remember the ones who have passed, and find comfort, but in order for it to continue to thrive, it needs to be enjoyed respectfully.