Students and staff at Tippecanoe Middle School dedicated memorial gardens to two teachers who died during the 2017-18 school year. The dedication was May 31, the last day of school. CONTRIBUTED

Their school suffered 2 emotional losses this year, so students created a unique memorial on the last day of class

The gardens were created in memory of math teacher Sara Drexler, who died of brain cancer in December, and English language arts teacher Catherine Bensman, who died of lung cancer in May.

The gardens — planned and brought to life by members of the school’s Design Thinking II class — were dedicated May 31 in a program during which teaching colleagues spoke before quietly gathered staff and students.

A group of students comprised of Lilly McDowell, Davis Featherstone, Grayson Ring and Ethan Spencer worked on the gardens project as part of the overall class theme of the environment.

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The initial focus was on planting trees to improve the school’s appearance. However, that focus expanded with the deaths of the teachers.

“We moved on to planting memorial trees for the teachers,” Ring said. “We felt it was something impactful and helped everyone.”

Dale Bonifas, the design thinking class teacher, said the students planned the gardens after researching the best options for trees, shrubs and perennials and then raised money through donations from school staff and local businesses. The students also picked out the signs noting the gardens were in loving memory of the teachers.

“Miss Drexler and Mrs. Bensman’s legacies live on through these memorial gardens,” Bonifas said. “Here you can quietly and privately remember them as outstanding teachers, colleagues and friends.”

Teacher Melissa Stucke said Drexler battled courageously for more than three years following diagnosis.

“If you knew Sara, you knew she was an amazing person,” Stucke said. “She was a gem. She was forever positive and always a worker. She arrived early to school, she stayed late. She was always fun to be around.”

Bensman was described by fellow teacher Linda Ares as an instructor, coach, friend, confidant, mentor and helper as well as teacher.

“She had high expectations for learning but also the highest degree of expectations for personal integrity and achievement. She would not let a student settle for less than their best,” she said. “Her work ethic and love for teaching were evident.”

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