Archive for Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Outdoor classroom dedicated

May 29, 2002

It was a bittersweet occasion for those who gathered for the dedication of the Liz Cronemeyer Outdoor Classroom.

The small pond and fountain, large landscaping rocks and hostas nestled beneath a tall oak formed a shady classroom Cronemeyer had envisioned a classroom she didn't live to see.

In 1999, Cronemeyer, who from 1982 to 1998 taught at Tonganoxie Elementary School, died at the age of 46. It was her wish that in lieu of flowers, donations be used to establish a garden for the grade school children to enjoy.

Family members and friends who attended the May 21 ribbon cutting included Kate, the daughter of Jack and Liz Cronemeyer.

"Gardening was her favorite thing to do," Kate said of her mother. "That was where she spent her summers planting in the garden."

Liz Cronemeyer found her peace "in the garden and in the kitchen," Kate said.

Merrilee Cooper, who taught with Cronemeyer, named those who had been instrumental in establishing the garden, including Jack Cronemeyer.

"We wouldn't have been able to start it on any level if Jack hadn't been there," Cooper said. "He brought in his equipment, brought the landscaping rocks in and got it all going."

The teachers had considered calling the area a memorial.

"But a memorial reminded me of losing Liz," Cooper said. "And this garden is really what Liz was all about when she was with us."

Liz Cronemeyer's father, Larry Moore, spoke to the group.

"Liz was a great improver," Moore said. "She never saw something she couldn't improve. When she came to Tonganoxie Elementary School she had ideas about how to improve the school and her learning program."

Cronemeyer continued her education while teaching in Tonganoxie. During the 1980s she took a year off to earn a master's degree at Kansas University. Then she began taking classes toward a doctorate, her father said.

"She was still working on that in the '90s when she didn't have enough strength to continue anymore," he said. " So that tells you how tough she was and how determined she was."

Moore said he hopes the community will feel as if they are a part of the garden so that people will continue to work on it.

"The nicest thing that you could do for Liz is just to keep making it better," Moore said.

Teacher Deniece Wakeman gave family members a notebook filled with notes and stories written by Liz Cronemeyer. She also gave copies of the notebook's pages to other family members and teachers.

"Truly, Liz will continue to be our teacher and our friend," Wakeman said.

The elementary school was important to Cronemeyer, her father said, explaining that after she earned her master's degree she was offered a job at Kansas University.

"But she didn't take it," Moore said. "She preferred to come back to the kids."

Moore described Cronemeyer as a lifelong cheerful person with high energy and "infectious laughter."

"We miss her," Moore said. "She left so many good things behind. Her life was shorter than most of us have, but we can't say she didn't give her share."

And Cronemeyer's daughter, Kate, said she was pleased to see the outdoor classroom, which includes her mother's name carved on a stone.

"I'm glad that people are still thinking of her," Kate said.

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