Northside High School honors special-education student with memorial bench, garden

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMay 24, 2013 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Northside High students present Michele Ledford, center, with flowers during the dedication of a park bench and garden in memory of her son, Josh Ledford, who died in February. History students from Libby Housand's classes volunteered to raise money to build the garden. Chris Stephens, second right from Ledford, built the bench at a friend's wood shop. "It's just right thing to do," Stephens said. "I didn't want them to spend the money on something I could build." 05.24.13

ROBIN TRIMARCHI

"I wouldn't trade it for anything.

"Never, no, never.

"… Friendship is the best present ever."

The quote is engraved on a bench built with love and dedicated Friday in a ceremony at Northside High School.

Tigger, the favorite Disney character of Josh Ledford, spoke those words -- words the non-verbal, special-education student embodied. They sum up the memories Northside staff and students have of Josh after he died at 20 in February.

"We just wanted to make sure that nobody forgot him," said Northside sophomore Marquis Wilson.

About 50 students in Libby Housand's three history classes collected $60 to create a garden around the bench, which Northside junior Chris Stephens volunteered to build.

"It's just the right thing to do," he said.

Libby Campos and Dianne Harmon co-taught Josh, one of 12 students ages 14-22 with severe and profound disabilities at Northside.

Josh was in a wheelchair, but his spirit couldn't be confined.

"He always communicated with his eyes," said Campos, who taught Josh at Brewer Elementary as well. "He had the most beautiful blue eyes. He would let you know how he is feeling through the way he looked at you, his laughter, his facial expressions."

A neighbor, Sgt. Maj. Mark Parsley, let Chris use his workshop and gave him pieces of a discarded cast-iron bench. After 15-20 hours of work, Chris had rubbed off the rust, put the pieces back together and added oak slats. His mother, Martha Hart, painted the bench's hummingbirds, a tribute to Campos. Chris also made sure the finish is weather-proof.

Housand donated the plaques for the bench and the flowers and mulch for the garden. Her students donated the sweat, laboring for about five hours on the landscaping.

Josh's mother, Michele Ledford, said it was overwhelming to see how many folks cared about her son.

"I never thought he'd touch hearts like he touched mine," she said.

The fancy term for it is inclusion, when special-education students join regular classes for lessons. Housand and Campos have a simpler way of explaining the positive impact:

"This reminds them not only how lucky they are but how precious these children are," Housand said.

"You can have the intelligence of Einstein," Campos said, "but if you don't touch somebody's life, what kind of life have you had?"

-- Staff photographer Robin Trimarchi contributed to this report.

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