Lifestyle

Friday Harbor Elementary School's 'Greeting Place': The evolution of a special place

Top photo: Jeanine Earnhart creates the whale scene for the school wall. Middle photo: Allison and Bob Benz with a whale for the scene at The Greeting Place at Friday Harbor Elementary School. Bottom photo: Standing from left, Brad Fincher, Jeanette Longan, Bob Benz, Madison Kincaid, Luke and Zach Fincher. Sitting from left, Jane and Sam Buck, and Jeanine Earnhart. - Contributed / Debbi Fincher
Top photo: Jeanine Earnhart creates the whale scene for the school wall. Middle photo: Allison and Bob Benz with a whale for the scene at The Greeting Place at Friday Harbor Elementary School. Bottom photo: Standing from left, Brad Fincher, Jeanette Longan, Bob Benz, Madison Kincaid, Luke and Zach Fincher. Sitting from left, Jane and Sam Buck, and Jeanine Earnhart.
— image credit: Contributed / Debbi Fincher

By DEBBI FINCHER

When we first talked in September of creating a safer place for our kindergartners during "pick-up" times at Friday Harbor Elementary School, Sharon Minke, our son's kindergarten teacher, asked if there might be a way to honor the memory of those parents who have passed away while their children have attended FHES.

One of her students recently experienced such a loss. She thought of another family that went through this — the Benz family.

Of course, it was a lovely idea and no one knew what was to come.

As time went on, we moved forward with asking for donations for benches to be built and found all six benches were quickly sponsored. Each bench fully sponsored would get a plaque dedicated to whomever the sponsor wanted. I then received a call from Bob Benz wanting to dedicate a bench in loving memory of his late wife, Patti.

The conversation with Ms. Minke came flooding back to me and I felt terrible that we already had all six benches sponsored, but said to Bob we would find a way to honor Patti. I told him we were working on artwork for the area and perhaps this might be something he'd like to be involved in. Jane Buck was already collaborating on an art project with Jeanine Earnhart, so when she e-mailed me the superimposed image on the school wall, I was excited to call Bob!

I called Bob the next morning and asked him if he'd like to help sponsor this project and we could have a dedication plaque there. I asked him if he knew Jeanine Earnhart. He said, "Deb, she's the person's whose poem, 'If you've ever lived on an island,' was read at Patti's memorial and printed on her memorial program."

Then Bob asked, "What is the art image?" At this point, I had only described it as powerful and beautiful. As I told him it was the water with whales, he said, "That was Patti's favorite thing to do." They live on Sunset Point on the west side and would watch the whales go by.

Then Bob asked, "Where will it be placed?" I said it will run under Ms. Minke's window

and then a breaching orca would come up from the left side. Bob told me that was the last parent-teacher conference that he and Patti had together before she passed away. Ms. Minke's kindness and compassion toward Allison made all the difference.

Bob and I were both amazed at how this had all come full circle with so much meaning behind it. I shared with him Ms. Minke's comments from the beginning conversations, that she wanted to honor Patti — amazingly, it was already in the works!

Bob and Allison have been involved in the painting and installing of this beautiful art work created by Jeanine Earnhart and cut out in wood by Jack Clay, who turns out to be a neighbor of the Benz family. Jack did not know this was going to be something that Bob would be involved in, it all happened so quickly.

We've all been touched by the spirit of community and kindness of others. I hope everyone will feel the love that went into this project by so many.

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