Richard Hyatt: A proper Baker burial, headstone

February 27, 2014 

In life, Paul Garner had little to give. In death, he is a contributor.

For more than 20 years he survived on the streets of Columbus.

Then, on a frigid morning in early January, another homeless person found Garner's lifeless body on a vacant lot near shelters that could have saved his life.

His death alarmed a community and his story touched their hearts, beginning with the belief that he deserved a Christian burial.

Friends who remembered him from Baker High School hatched that dream -- and their dream came true.

Instead of being buried in a pauper's grave in a $19 plywood box, Garner was laid to rest on a hillside at Parkhill Cemetery with nearly 100 people paying respects. A minister read scripture. Flowers that were the colors of their old school decorated the gravesite. A classmate sang "Amazing Grace" and the county coroner donated the burial plot.

It seemed to be a beautiful ending to what most of us would consider a wasted life.

Only that was not the final benediction.

His obituary listed no survivors, but Garner was in reality survived by thousands of people around the country that are proud graduates of a high school that exists only in their scrapbooks. Those people provided the kind of send off that a Baker person deserves and their work did not end on that windy day in January.

Toni Wolfe and Joyce Dent-Fitzpatrick knew Garner from the Class of 1980. They were determined to put a headstone on his grave and to do what they could to help the homeless men and women that he left behind.

Several days ago they selected a marble marker that should be in place in a few weeks and recently they helped another group of Baker graduates that went all over town delivering care packages to local homeless people.

It was a simple package containing items most of us take for granted, like warm socks, deodorant, hand sanitizer, crackers, granola bars and bottled water -- things Garner would have appreciated.

After his death on Jan. 7, people asked what they could do to help save the lives of other homeless people. Donations flowed freely, helping the Baker grads honor a man they remembered as a class clown.

In an amazing example of giving, they raised more than $7,500. This week, their work almost done, they closed the account. The balance was $2,013.

Checks for $1,006.50 were presented to Open Door Community Center and The Safe House, a spinoff of the Columbus Jail Ministry -- organizations that offer helping hands to an increasing number of people who find themselves on the street.

When they did so, they saw the face of Paul Garner.

"We're determined that people won't forget him," Wolfe said.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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