Originally Published in the Setonian August 23, 2013
Part of the legend of the butterfly is that if you tell a wish to a butterfly, it goes straight to God.
Though event planners were concerned that they would need to learn if butterflies fly in the rain, a clear day proved sunny for the dedication of Sondra’s Garden, a memorial garden dedicated to former Seton Hill University (SHU) professor Sondra Lettrich. Fitting for a education professor, the garden is considered to be Lettrich’s “final lesson plan” said Audrey Quinlan, head of the department of education, in her opening remarks.
“If Sondra was with us she would say ‘I want my spirit alive and I want to make sure academic excellence continues,’” said Mary Ann Gawelek to the group of staff, faculty, friends and members of Lettrich’s family. “At this time of year Sondra would be frantically preparing for classes, so I think it’s perfect that we are doing this right at the start of the academic year.” Interim SHU president, Bibiana Boerio, was also in attendance.
Lettrich’s family brought additions to the garden, located between the administration building and St. Joseph’s Hall, including a statue of St. Francis placed personally by Lettrich’s
grandson. A statue of children reading was also brought from Lettrich’spersonal garden. She was an avid gardener.
“This garden is such a wonderful tribute to my mom,” said Lettrich’s son Dave. “It’s the most appropriate memorial she could possibly ask for. Everything about it is her. Humble and elegant.”
The garden also features a new birdbath designed and created by SHU art student Emily Franicola.
“I was honored to get the chance to create this,” said Franicola. “I try to leave a piece of me at every school I go to and so it was really awesome that this got to be the piece that I left here.”
Gawelek shared some memories of some of her last visits with Lettrich in the hospital where Lettrich mentioned the two things she felt were necessary for her to do: to teach and to garden.
“My idea of relaxing is looking at a garden,” said Gawalek. “Her idea of relaxing was making Don (her husband) move tons of dirt for her to play with.”
Just as every lesson plan has a culminating activity, a butterfly release wrapped up the proceedings. Members of the audience unfolded papers releasing butterflies, which had been monitored and kept alive by Mary Spataro, into the garden. They flew up into the clear sky, but many came back to land on the walls surrounding the garden.
“A garden, whether it’s in a pot or in a yard, can act as a lasting symbol of spring and as a constant reminder of new beginnings. This garden will serve as a reminder, to all of us, of Sondra’s presence among us and her spirit will live with us in it’s beauty and in it’s simplicity,” prayed Maureen O’Brien, director of campus ministry. She also included in her blessing the prayer of the butterfly.
More than just a memorial, the garden also ties into educational theories like Gardiner’s theory of multiple intelligences and nature, according to Lettrich’s former colleague Kathleen Harris, assistant professor of education.
“It’s a beautiful place for students to come and reflect. I can bring classes and clubs here. So much now has been coming out about working with nature with young children and it’s so appropriate with Sondra’s love of gardening and nature,” said Harris.
The education club and Alpha Lambda Delta volunteered to help keep the garden clean throughout the years.
“I think it’s fitting that there is a permanent place on this campus dedicated to Sondra, and to be always called Sondra’s garden,” said Quinlan.