Monday, April 09, 2001

Garden grows into reminder of tornado

Project gives thanks that toll wasn't higher

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Today's second anniversary of a deadly tornado that pummeled the Montgomery and Blue Ash areas will be a quiet one. That doesn't mean the community has forgotten the destruction that took four lives and caused $125 million in damage.

        Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy's Middle School, damaged by the tornado, has a lasting reminder to give thanks that the toll wasn't greater.

        Jon Nafziger, a sophomore at CHCA, earned his Eagle Scout Award last fall for completing the Garden of Thanks at the school.

[photo] The Garden of Thanks was built by Jon Nafziger at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy's Middle School.
(Mike Simons photo)
| ZOOM |
        “Once things get back to normal, it's easy to forget what happened,” said Diane Blackburn, school principal. “The garden is a reminder that each day you never know what's going to happen when you wake up.

        “It's a reminder of what people can do when they work together. We had an incredible number of volunteers just show up to help after the tornado, an excess of 200 people, when we needed to move from our building into the high school,” Dr. Blackburn said.

        It all started in the fall of 1998, when Jon Nafziger, of West Chester, was an eighth-grader at CHCA.

        He asked Dr. Blackburn about doing an Eagle project for the school, and she suggested a reading garden, where students could read or classes could gather.

        Scout rules prevented Jon from getting direct help from a professional. But his grandfather, Bill Hagen, a civil engineer, guided him through the design process by letting him use his books and serving as a consultant.

        What happened next were seemingly insurmountable obstacles mixed with uncanny events that made everything fall into place.

        Jon completed the garden plan in April 1999 and took it to school for approval.

        One week later, the tornado struck the school, causing $1.4 million damage. Jon's plan, his only copy, was feared destroyed.

        But weeks later, Dr. Blackburn told Jon the plan was found, miraculously unscathed. She suggested the garden be renamed the Garden of Thanks.

        There was much to be thankful for. The middle school was not destroyed as earlier suspected, and no lives were lost there.

        Had the tornado struck an hour earlier or later, people would have been in the school.

        Jon couldn't start work until fall 1999 because the site in front of the school was deemed unsafe. Meanwhile, he sought donations from businesses for materials.

        Everyone had already donated to help victims and told him to come back next year. He understood the priority, but was discouraged.

        Then, his grandfather died June 18, 1999. In lieu of flowers, his grandmother asked that donations be directed to the garden. He started getting replies, and suddenly, it seemed doable again.

        Donations of sand, gravel, paving stones, plants and money meant the garden project was worth thousands when completed.

        Jon worked 95 hours. Seventeen other scouts and friends worked 130 hours.

        They spread 14 tons of gravel, four tons of sand and six skids of pavers or small stones for the garden path.

        Two years later, the tornado's effects are still felt. The tornado damaged the ground, causing drainage problems in the garden. The school will fix the problems before adding flowers and landscaping.

        Jon's mother, Jan Nafziger, is proud of her 15-year-old son's persistence.

        She was moved when Tom Zimmerman, the dad of one of Jon's classmates, heard about the garden plans and wrote a song, “Garden of Thanks.”

        “The song reaffirms to me that God really wanted this,” Mrs. Nafziger said.


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