COLUMBIANA - It all started with a crimson king maple tree planted last year by a woman battling breast cancer. Now, months after her passing, the tree is part of the Celebration of Life Garden, a growing non-profit project spearheaded by the Columbiana High School Class of 1977.
Tammy Gerner Roder, who died in February, chose to plant the tree in honor of her graduating class using money her friends and classmates raised to cover her costs of traveling to and from the Cleveland Clinic for treatments.
Roder told them at the time she didn't need the money and wanted to plant the tree instead.
The tree became known as "Tammy's Tree," but Roder always wanted the effort to be about her friends and classmates.
"She was a huge incentive in a kind of bringing everybody together," classmate Dane Lavin said. "She was so positive. We knew it was something that she would have wanted. She was always insistent that she didn't want the garden to be just about her, she wanted it to be about Columbiana."
While initiated as a volunteer project for the Class of 1977, the garden has grown to include all alumni and will be the first full-scale flower garden in Firestone Park.
"The support has just kind of come in from a lot of different sources. The Firestone Park Board has been really accommodating with us," he said.
The project has been financially supported through alumni and public donations and the Philip F. Thompson Charitable Foundation.
In a press release announcing a groundbreaking ceremony for the garden, David Noll said, "We see the garden as a way of giving something back to our home town. The park has always been such a big part of our memories for growing up in Columbiana."
Noll serves on the Celebration of Life Garden Committee alongside Lavin. A groundbreaking is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday and will be held rain or shine.
The garden is located on the east bank of the Wildlife Pond along the parks' walking trail and features a raised stone garden bed filled with colorful annuals and a brick walkway.
The garden bed was added in June of this year, around the one year anniversary of the planting of the Crimson Maple, and the garden was completed last week by Three Flags Inc. of Hubbard, who spent a day on the installation, Lavin said.
The company is owned by Andy Kish.
"One of the things we really liked about it is he had vintage old fashioned Youngstown Bessemer bricks. Those are the bricks that are very similar bricks that were in front of the old Columbiana High School. We wanted that kind of look and were very fortunate he had those. It looks like it has been there for a long time," Lavin said.
The committee is also raising funds through the sale of engraved bricks to be placed in the walkway. The bricks are $50 each and can be ordered online at www.celebrationoflifegarden.com, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The group is also encouraging perennial donations, and small garden signs will be available for donors to write on to leave their name with the plant or dedicate the plant in memory of a loved one.
Lavin said planting will be done into the fall, for as long as weather permits.
"From this point forward we are going to be doing primarily planting we still have a ways to go. It is probably not going to look complete until next year. Hopefully it will have an impact and be something different in the park," he said.
More information is also available on the group's Facebook page and donations can also be mailed to The Celebration of Life Garden, P.O. Box 477, Columbiana, Ohio.