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Boy Scout honors legacy of teacher with garden

Photo by Barry Levine

Photo by Barry Levine

ALBANY -- Seemingly going through a range of emotions from joy to pride to sadness, Robert Nelson managed to keep his emotions in check during the dedication ceremony of a garden named for his late wife Kathy.

Westover Comprehensive High School senior and Boy Scout Jordan Cox honored former LIFE Lab teacher Kathy Nelson by using his Eagle Scout project to create a garden at the Dougherty County School System's Gifted Center. Nelson was a 30-year educator and also taught Jordan's younger brother Tyler.

After a 2 1/2-year fight, Kathy Nelson died of ovarian cancer Dec. 27, 2007, at the age of 56, her husband said. Seven years prior to being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Robert Nelson said his wife successfully overcame breast cancer.

"With (beating) breast cancer, we thought we were home free," said Robert Nelson of his late wife of 36 years. "(Now) 2 1/2 years later, almost three, there's always something to remind you; you never know when it will hit. It can still be very emotional.

"(This) is very therapeutic, and to be here helps with getting to know Jordan a little better. Just knowing it was in memory of Kathy -- it was hard for a little bit, but helpful for the process (of healing)."

Jordan's garden features six wood benches, a cement University of Georgia bench, since Kathy Nelson was a huge Bulldogs fan, a weather station, a rain gauge, thermometer, two bird feeders, a hummingbird feeder, a bird bath and a wooden podium. It also includes red knockout roses, two pixie plants, a holly bush, red cedar mulch and border timbers kept in place with galvanized spikes.

With the help of his family, along with about 20 other Boy Scouts from Troop 15 of the Chehaw Council and six other adults, Jordan assembled the garden over an eight-hour period under 93-degree skies Aug. 14. He came back the next day with four others to spread the mulch.

"(Kathy) made you think outside of the box; that's what this whole school is about," said Jordan, who was taught by Kathy Nelson during his fourth- and fifth-grade years. "I definitely wanted to honor his late wife, and it's nice to know it moved him. It's kind of a sense of accomplishment, too. I have a new respect for anyone that earns an Eagle."

Jordan, who turns 18 Wednesday, said he received pivotal help on the project from Billy Wayne and Eric Ammons. Wayne instructed Jordan on the types of supplies he would need from Home Depot, and Ammons cut out the wood benches and podium. Wayne also told Jordan to create a scale drawing of his proposed garden to keep the project organized and manageable.

"I'm very, very proud," Amy Cox said of her son's efforts. "It was a big effort and a lot of planning went into it. His dad (Michael) is at work in California, but flew in for the project. I had no clue how much work was involved in Eagle Scout work."

Amy Cox said her son's garden project was spurred after she created a scrapbook of the roughly 100 letters from fourth- and fifth-grade students at the LIFE Lab who wrote about what they liked about Kathy Nelson following her death six months after she stopped working. Amy Cox presented the scrapbook to Robert Nelson.

"I knew I cried reading most of them, and that's where we (LIFE employees Cathy Revell and Letty Rayneri) came up with the idea," Amy Cox said. "(I said) 'I know someone that can do that,' and the idea just grew from there."

Revell remembered Kathy Nelson as a "wonderful co-worker and friend" who "cared deeply about her students." She said Jordan impressed her greatly not only because of the garden, but also with the effort he put into Thursday-morning's dedication ceremony with current LIFE Lab students. The students lined the outside of the garden -- which will double as an outdoor classroom -- with their teachers to watch the ceremony.

"I thought it was awesome how much he interacted with the students," said Revell, the Gifted Education supervisor who has worked at the LIFE Lab for 10 years. "It took a lot of planning and preparation for everything. He's been working on this project for more than a year. I'm very proud of him for his dedication to his project.

"This will be used by students for years," she added. "I mean, we have 200 students a year, and you just think of the impact it will have. Our students are so excited to use it."

The Dougherty County School System's LIFE (Learning In a Flexible Environment) Lab has an enrollment of 210 students from kindergarten through fifth-grade, Revell said. According to the DCSS, "The curriculum has a Georgia Performance Standards academic content foundation, but focuses on interdisciplinary enrichment activities through thematic units. Content and pacing are appropriate to the needs of the gifted learners."