Originally published: 2.2012 in the Madison Weekly News
Soon students at Monrovia Elementary will be learning in an outdoor classroom and reading garden, while school staff and friends will have a living memorial to honor a fellow teacher.
Jill Butler Lares taught third grade at Monrovia Elementary for six years before succumbing to a brain tumor in August 2011, at age 31. After Jill passed, the faculty wished to honor their colleague and her dedication to her students. A committee consisting of teachers Amy Atchley, Mary Boyer, Lisa Ryan, Jennifer Mellberg, and Tasha Hodgens was formed, and the idea of a living garden incorporating Jill’s love of reading started to take shape.
“Jill is my best Friend. Almost like a sister to me. I met Jill in August 2001. Our classes had lunch together that year. Jill often said that our friendship was a “God Sent”; she always said God knew we would need each other through tough times ahead and to celebrate the happiest times of our lives. She was like no one I had ever met or will ever meet again. She was always smiling, even when she became so sick, and she loved her students with everything she had, often spending extra time with students that needed it, and spending time with students whose home life was lacking, or who just needed that extra push of praise and encouragement. She was full of joy and managed to spread it to everyone who was fortunate enough to cross her path.” said teacher and committee member Tasha Hodgens.
On May 16, 2011, a ground-breaking ceremony was held in the courtyard of Monrovia Elementary. Family, friends, and students shared stories and memories of Jill.
“Our plan centers around specific books or themes for books and studies for elementary students. One area will be The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Students will actually walk through a wardrobe door to a scene in the book and have a place to sit and read. A tree was hit in the April storms and had to be cut down. We had them leave it as a stump to be The Giving Tree. This book by Shel Silverstein is about a boy and a tree. The tree gives the boy many things throughout his life, and in the end it is a stump for the old man to rest on. It will be carved with M. E. + J. L. to mimic the illustrations in the book. We will have a small pond with plants and animals to represent several books about water. We'll have a bird area with many birdhouses and plants to attract birds, a butterfly garden, a weather area, and a history area. A highlight will be a secret garden, after the book, The Secret Garden, a favorite of Jill's as a child.” said teacher and committee member Jennifer Mellberg.
Local Boy Scout Matthew Wilson is assisting with the project. “My Eagle project consists of doing all of the groundwork. After grinding several stumps, I will be tilling the dirt in the courtyard and mixing in compost. This will allow the teachers fertile and workable ground to plant flower beds. After this is done, I will be planting hydrangeas in the corners of the courtyard. I will also be planting monkey grass along about 100 feet of sidewalk to create a border. When I have completed my portion, the Monrovia Elementary teachers will take over to start their flower beds and outdoor centers.” said Wilson.
Monrovia Elementary students have also participated in the creation of Jill’s garden. “Fifth grade art students have designed and painted one of the murals to be hung in the garden, and the fourth grade students made stepping stones to be placed in the garden. During Green Week, the third grade students helped in the garden by raking the leaves and pulling up unwanted junk.” said Mrs. Hodgens.
An online blog was created by teacher and committee member Amy Atchley to share memories of Jill and detail progress on the garden. To read more about the project, visit: thejillstorybookgarden.blogspot.com.
Anyone interested in volunteering or making a donation to the Jill Butler Lares Storybook Garden can contact Monrovia Elementary School at 256-837-3628.
photo credit: The Jill Butler Storybook Garden