April 22, 2010
A couple of weeks ago, Ginger Freeze, the Professional Development Specialist at Erin's old school, sent me an email asking if Walter and I were available on this or that date. I knew the school's principal, David Ogden was retiring, so I thought they were just including us in some sort of farewell reception for him, since we had such a long (seventeen year) involvement with him and the school.
It turned out that the Mary Branch Student Council had bought and planted a tree on the newly re-designed and re-furbished playground, and the event we were invited to was its dedication. I didn't come prepared to take any photos, so I am bereft of photographic evidence (and hoping someone who took pictures will email me some).
A whole crowd gathered, and staff and teachers took turns collecting themselves, wiping away the tears, and telling the assembled group their favorite memory or story about Erin. We laughed and cried remembering Erin giving "energy tickets" to adults all over campus when the student council began monitoring campus energy consumption and giving citations to anyone who wasted energy (left lights and equipment on or practiced other energy wasting habits). Branch reduced energy more than any other school and actually won a $1500 (I think) prize. Erin had a reputation for taking her responsibility extremely seriously, and as the several citations issued to the principal and assistant principal demonstrate, she feared no one in her quest to save energy. That makes me very proud to hear on this, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.
Other teachers recalled Erin's in many other situations: giving complicated, multi-move, hand-jive hand-shakes, carrying, then interpreting messages from teacher to teacher or teacher to principal (sent to be mildly insulting, interpreted by Erin using much more diplomatic language), and helping her friends get along, even if it meant that she had to put aside her own, obviously correct solution to a problem, so that the group could reach consensus. The robotics teacher, Wanda Stewart, told this last story, then sent along pictures of Erin and many of her friends (all of these were new to me, and like found treasure to my heart):
Lucinda Houtchens reminded us of the ceramic mask that Erin did for her fifth grade project that earned honors at the district art fair. It was a tree: its long flowing beard represented the extensive root system, the main mask structure was the trunk, and the crown of the mask were the branches, topped with fruit.
The new tree, planted in Erin's memory has the following inscription, suggested by that art teacher:
"Erin Buenger: She was like a fiery comet in the sky that streaks through quickly and is gone; but oh, the magic and joy she brought us!"
As a side note, I think it's worth mentioning that a couple of people at the school had worried that the placement of the Erin tree was too close to the area where the kids play their recess soccer matches. Josh Durham, one of Erin's fifth grade teachers, wouldn't let them move it. He insisted that Erin would prefer to be in the middle of the action and that he had already seen the Erin tree make some brilliant tackles.
The day after the dedication ceremony, I received an email with the following photo and message. The original Mary Branch Relay for Life team was organized about five years ago, when Erin relapsed, to honor and encourage her and also several teachers and staff who faced their own battle with cancer. The team has grown and raised their highest amount, $7000, last year. If, after reading the message below, you would like to bid on the shirt or otherwise support Mary Branch's Relay for Life team, send a note to Ginger Freeze at email@example.com
"This shirt is the official 2010 BISD - Branch Bear Relay for Life shirt. You will notice the bright green butterfly on the left sleeve. The butterfly is actually designed using the initials of a former student who lost her battle with cancer in April of 2009. Her name was Erin Buenger. It is with great pride that we carry her memory with us as we continue to raise awareness and funds to find a cure for cancer. There are only two shirts remaining and they are both a size medium. The money raised through the auction of one shirt will be donated to the American Cancer Society. The money raised from the other will be donated to Mary Branch Elementary to purchase playground swings that Erin would have loved."