When classes dawn on a new school year Monday at Rohanen Middle School, just outside those freshly scrubbed classrooms will stand a proud testament to love and kindness.
Some may see it as a small gesture, and indeed now it is small, but one day it will be big and beautiful.
It’s a tree. A very special tree, because it was planted earlier this year to honor a boy — who’d been a student at Rohanen — whose young life was cut short in a tragedy that unfolded in November 2012 in East Rockingham.
The boy’s death would go on to touch many lives in the area, from all walks of life.
The tree honors Garon Wayne Benson, a beloved student who tragically died in a house fire.
An Oklahoma Redbud Tree was donated by Lowe’s and planted this spring by Mitchell Hodges, owner of Hodges Landscaping. The tree was put in the ground near the baseball field at the middle school.
“It was so devastating to lose Garon,” said Shannon Coward, vice president of RMS PTO, substitute teacher and parent of a Rohanen student. “He was wonderful, and words just cannot describe how it felt to lose a student like him.”
The 13-year-old was killed when the family’s home caught fire. His mother and step-father were able to escape, but serious injuries were sustained.
The community has continued to mourn the loss of the young boy, holding motorcycle rides and selling ribbons in his honor.
The students at Rohanen were not willing to let the last school year end without finding some way in which to make his memory permanent.
“When we lost Garon it impacted our school tremendously because our school is so small,” said Principal Pam Francisco. “The kids felt it was important to make sure that he was not forgotten.”
Students raised money for a memorial plaque at the tree, which reads: “In loving memory of Garon Wayne Benson.”
“They wanted to make sure that Garon lives on at Rohanen since he won’t be moving on to high school with them,” said Francisco. “This tree will grow here in his memory.”
A tree is a symbol of life.
What a caring, loving, thoughtful tribute to a special young man who left us far too soon.