A place to sit and REMEMBER

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By Stephen Lega

The second-graders huddled around the table where Penny Nelson was demonstrating how to tie a friendship knot.


"Left, right, under and up," she repeated with each braid.

Before sending the students to their various work stations, she also gave them a reminder.

"There are no mistakes in artwork," she said, "just design changes."

Last week, Al and Penny Nelson introduced Lebanon Elementary students to the process of stone-carving. The students participated in a hands-on exercise that also tied into a heartfelt memorial to the late Betty Jo Higdon.

"She was someone who was just very passionate about education," said Charles Ramey, the art teacher at Lebanon Elementary. "Despite a tough battle, she was always here and smiling."

Higdon was 39 when she died Aug. 11 after fighting through several bouts of cancer in recent years. She was a special education teacher at LES.

As part of the program, the Nelsons created a bench as a memorial to Higdon. Students at Lebanon Elementary drew pictures that reflected their views of Higdon, and the Nelsons incorporated elements of several of those pictures into the designs on the bench.

"It was kind of overwhelming at first because you could see the sadness of what they were going through," Al Nelson said.

But the longer he looked at the pictures, the more he recognized the deep impact Higdon had made on the students. He said the bench will serve not only as a memorial to Higdon, but also to how the students felt about her.

The Nelsons placed the bench in a garden area in the back of the school before they left Friday. The official dedication for the bench will be held later this month.

The Nelsons, through their stone-carving operation, have been working with schools for approximately 30 years. During their workshops, they talk to students about the stone-carving process, teach them a little about limestone (the medium they use for their carving) and give them an opportunity to carve with a hammer and chisel.

Older students had a chance to do some free carving in which they created a shape out of a block of limestone, and all the students had the opportunity to chip away a piece of the bench to reveal the various designs. Higdon's family was also able to come to the school and chisel off a piece of the bench.

The students got to keep the piece they chipped away, which Al Nelson ground into a shape of their choosing. That piece was then incorporated into a necklace that the students could take home (which is why they needed to learn the friendship knot).

Ramey said the workshop was made possible with the support of the LES Parent-Teacher Organization and the Marion County Arts and Humanities Council. He said the workshop gave the students an opportunity to learn about a different type of art than what he teaches in the classroom.

Students seemed to enjoy it as well.

Second-grader Lauren O'Bryan repeatedly referred to the project as "cool".

"It was kind of cool that we got to make the necklaces," she said.

Fifth-grader John Austin Wheeler also enjoyed the stone-carving. He also said he remembered Higdon as a nice person.

"It was fun when I went to her class," Wheeler said. "We always played games like Go Fish."

Several students recognized that their drawings had been incorporated into the design of the bench, and Ramey appreciated that they felt that they had been part of the creation of the tribute to Higdon.

"I love that they got to take a piece of this memorial with them," he said.