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Caring for Bonnie's gardens helps friends mourn and heal

Seven of the fourteen Caretakers of Bonnie's Gardens gathered on what would have been her birthday to celebrate her life. These seven included in front from left Alice Reese, Connie Williams, Donna Rustad, Carog Naig and Maureen Aslakson. In back Sandy Hanson, Karen Burnham and Becky Hippe. Photo by Katie Erdman

If a person loves something or someone enough in life could it be possible to pass on that love after death? To go beyond the grave, so to speak, and fulfill a dream?

Through the love, admiration and desire of fourteen friends and family members, a strong commitment and passion has continued for Bonnie Jeitz even after her death on June 8, 2009. According to these friends Bonnie was a wonderful example, true friend, loving wife and mother and an excellent gardener. Church, family and friends may have come first in her life but her garden was always next in line.

Therefore shortly after her death in June some of those who she loved and touched so often in life decided to continue to carry that loving touch to her garden each day. They formed a group called 'Caretakers of Bonnie's Garden' and set up a regular routine for planting, weeding, watering, transplanting and harvesting.

This was not a small task. Bonnie's gardens encompassed a great deal of their rural Hancock farm yard. The largest of her gardens is approximately 40'x40' and includes a large pond, trees, rock gardens, pathways and lots and lots of different types of flowers, shrubs, vines and greenery.

She also had several other smaller gardens including those surrounding her house, a special raised garden and a vegetable garden. She was constantly adding to her gardens, transplanting and make changes. In fact shortly after she died her friends found a trunk full of plants she had just purchased and they quickly went to work placing them in the ground.

That task, along with a promise made to her by many of her friends to keep her garden growing, led to this nurturing and healing process for the 'Caretakers of Bonnie's Garden'. These women not only planted the annuals but also some bulbs and vegetables. They started up the tiller, broke out the hoes, hoses and sometimes even got down on hands and knees to keep the garden up to the standards set by their friend.

The garden was also a healing source for Bonnie during her fourteen year battle with cancer. She fought the ongoing illness during those years with courage and determination. She also endured heart surgery at the age of 35, was gored by a bull, stepped on by a cow and pinned between a tractor and hitch. She often joked that she had nine lives and she was already starting on the next nine.

That type of positive attitude toward life is what her friends admired about her. She was not just a great example to them but a person who could build them up when they were down, be the first one at your door with flowers or a cake on a special day or opening her door and kitchen for coffee and conversation. She was a great entertainer and loved to cook for her family and friends. She never complained, always had hope and never gave up.

On September 27 Bonnie would have turned 62. In recognition of this day the 'Caretakers of Bonnie's Garden' gathered for lunch at Buddies in Hancock and celebrated her life. They wore their beautiful pink t-shirts with the name of their group and talked about their friend. The Sunday before her birthday they also presented three large silk floral arrangements to her church, West Zion of rural Hancock.

The caretakers include Sandy Hanson, Alice Reese, Connie Williams, Karen Aslakson, Merilyn Maanum, Karen Burnham, Donna Rustad, Maureen Aslakson, Norma Jeitz, Carol Naig, Jackie Williams, Becky and Jennifer Hippe and Sherry Rutledge. Friends and family members who hope to continue the dream started by a courageous woman who not only planted flowers and vegetables but also a lot of love and hope in the hearts of all that she touched. With their help her dream will go on long after her death.