EVAN GARDNER’S brother Alex, and mother Debbie, can be seen standing next to the memorial tree on Friday, May 18, which was planted in honor of Evan on the Durand Area Schools’ main campus.
Many of Evan’s friends and family members gathered to bless the tree on May 18, just days before Debbie would present the first-ever Evan Gardner Memorial Scholarship to Morgan Raley, a 2018 graduate of Durand High School. Also, track coach Bruce Spalding announced during the blessing that there are plans to add a plaque and benches to the memorial site sometime in the near future.
(Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
A group of Evan Gardner’s friends and family members gathered on the Durand Area Schools’ (DAS) main campus on Friday, May 18 to bless the tree that was planted in April in Evan’s honor. Evan, a 2015 graduate of Durand High School, passed away on Sept. 17, 2017, one week after his 21st birthday. Evan’s cross-country coach, Dave Madrigal, planted the red sugar maple – a nod to Evan’s love for bright colors – in April.
While Madrigal initiated the planting of the tree, it was Evan’s family that organized the blessing, with the help of Pastor Eric Johnson of the Duffield United Methodist Church. The group spent more than an hour sharing stories, laughs and a few tears. Evan’s mother, Debbie, addressed the group wearing a pair of her son’s neon-colored running shoes.
Those gathered for the blessing echoed the sentiments shared in Evan’s obituary, with many describing Evan as “an inspiration of kindness, goodwill, humor and courtesy to all who met or knew him.”
In the words of Elnora Mayfield, a fellow congregation member at the Duffield United Methodist Church where Evan was a regular, “If you didn’t love this guy [Evan], there was something wrong with you. He was such a sweetheart.”
David Smith, Evan’s stepfather, shared, “Whenever we have cross moments at home, we always ask, ‘What would Evan do?’ He never let anything get to him. He was just cool. Evan was the kindest man I will ever know. That’s what we’ll always remember.”
Madrigal was Evan’s cross-country coach from middle school through graduation. He chose to plant the tree on the cross country course, positioned between the middle and high schools, near a spot made memorable by Evan. Madrigal was unable to attend the blessing because his girls’ cross country team was competing at regionals, but he shared a story about Evan when reached for comment.
“When I first met Evan, he was in the 7th grade and he was a sprinter,” began Madrigal. “The team would meet at the middle school for practice, and we would warm up by running around the pond out back. It is about one-third of a mile, so it was a decent warm-up. Well, Evan began his first warm-up by taking off like a sprinter and I thought, ‘This is going to be good.’ Sure enough, Evan finished his lap and was all out of breath, but he continued to sprint his warm-up for the rest of his years on the middle school and high school teams.
“Evan was one of those kids, where you only had to tell him to do something once. He always tried his hardest at everything he did. We [the cross country team] are a tight-knit group, so his loss hit us pretty hard.”