On the first, warm weekend of April, friends Tori DeGroote and Elizabeth von Gremp put on their gardening clothes and hit the dirt.
But this was not just any garden they were planning on cultivating. This was to be "Mara's Garden," on the campus of Bergeson Elementary School.
Mara is Mara Steves, 48, a beloved community member, wife, mother and former Bergeson PTA member who was killed Feb. 13 in a traffic collision that made national news. Steves was trying to get a stray dog home.
According to Von Gremp, "Tori had saved some of the plants from Mara's memorial, with the intention that we would create 'Mara's Garden' at Bergeson. The beautiful spring weather inspired us to get out the past weekend, and we shared some wonderful memories of Mara, Bergeson and the PTA."
Mara's Garden can be visited by the public, though Von Gremp said it's more for Bergeson Elementary School and its families.
When widower John Steves visited the garden he said, "Mara's favorite symbol was the heart. To her, it represented how she should live her life: loving her family, friends, neighbors, teachers, students, people she met and even lost dogs. Mara had a heart of gold, and it was an inspiration to all who knew her. We should all strive to live our lives the way she did. This garden will hopefully serve as a reminder to live life to the fullest and to open our hearts to love one another."
Bergeson Principal Barbara Scholl said Mara Steves was special to the school.
"This garden will be a very special way to remember her," she said. "The area is right next to the office and the staff parking lot. All of the staff will walk by it each day, think of Mara and how much she meant to all of us."
As for the designing of the garden, Von Gremp said, "We planted it in an existing flower bed but removed a few plants to make room for it. We needed somewhere that it would be watered by an automatic sprinkler."
The friends added a hummingbird feeder to because of Mara's love of birds.
"She had two or three in her backyard and loved feeding them. We hope our garden attracts many hummingbirds," she said.
In addition to some of the memorial flowers that were planted, the women also purchased new flowers.
"We chose to create a heart-shaped garden, using red, pink and white flowers. Mara's favorite holiday was Valentine's Day. Ironically and unfortunately , she died the day before," Von Gremp said.
As for the stepping-stones, four of them will be placed to spell out "MARA," Von Gremp said.
"We put a lot of love into this garden. It's another special way we can help her loving spirit alive."
What would Mara think?
"She'd say, 'Thank you for creating a special place to remember me ... You know I love hearts.' I could feel her love all around us while worked on it," Von Gremp said.
As for Mara's survivors, Von Gremp said, the Steves family is "coping day by day. Some days are harder than others. The kids miss their mother very much, and John still can't believe that she's gone. The community has been very supportive. Each evening, a family delivers them a home-cooked meal. This has happened every night since the accident."
She said she has been teaching John Steves how to cook and how to shop using coupons. She and her husband, Bill, also invite Steves over for coffee most mornings.
"John is such a great guy. Mara was a very lucky woman to have such a loving and caring husband," Von Gremp said.
Mara's son, Jonathan, who celebrated his 14th birthday April 3, and her daughter, Hannah said the garden was amazing, Von Gremp said.