The Highland Park Town Council had an unusually touching item pass through the horseshoe on Monday, when it approved a way to remember deceased Bradfield Elementary students.
Johnny’s Place, a 1,100- square-foot paved area, was inspired by Johnny O’Leary, a second-grader who died in February after a battle with heart cancer.
“We wanted to figure out how to memorialize Johnny; not only Johnny, but how to make sure we memorialize other children that we’ve lost at Bradfield,” Bradfield parent Tracy Wallingford told members of the town’s Administrative Committe on Aug. 21.
The area will be on the east side of the main entrance on Southern Avenue. It will feature two walkways, a few benches, and a tree in the center. Underneath the flowering tree, glass “fallen petals” will honor lost students.
“Each one is a little individual, like the children, and they will be etched with the children’s names,” designer Melissa Gerstle told the committee.
Gerstle said she aimed for a design that would be “engaging for the children,” as opposed to the typical engraved bricks, which can be “kind of numbing [and] not very thoughtful.”
Johnny’s mother, Stinelli, said the memorial is a great way to honor not only her child, but also the community that surrounded the family in their time of need.
“It’s just beyond what we imagined,” she said. “The community has just come together so quickly to create a legacy and a memorial for him that will live on for generations and generations.”
Stinelli added that a garden is a perfect way to remember her child, who loved being outdoors.
“Everything about the design … is just wonderful — for it to be a happy place instead of a place of sorrow, to know that living is about the positive things in life and not just what happened,” she said.
As for funding, Southern Botanical has already agreed to do the landscape work at cost, and electrical work will be donated, Wallingford said. Other funding comes from the Bradfield PTA; she said the $36,000 gift has already been accepted by HPISD.
“We think [this] does a good job really using the funds that were all donated by Bradfield kids, parents, and our community,” Wallingford said.
Along with Johnny’s petal, there will be two others for Liberty and Faith Battaglia, who were killed by their father in 2001. The design includes nine blank petals that everyone hopes will go unused.
“What you’re doing is wonderful,” Mayor Joel Williams said at the committee meeting. “I’m sure everyone here shares that point of view.”
The council unanimously approved the plans at Monday’s meeting. Wallingford’s son, Finn, tagged along to say thanks.
“Johnny was my best friend,” the second-grader added.