Pollinator garden created for cancer warrior

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Jenny Vise, pictured at center with the schoolyard habitat sign, and a crew of student volunteers pose, equipment in hand, on the garden’s groundbreaking day. 

A tribulation that struck three Waterloo Junior High School families has led to a special garden at the school in honor of sixth grade cancer warrior Elsa Wiemerslage. 

The unique garden, located behind the school between two extension buildings, is called a pollinator garden and will soon showcase over 70 native plants in bloom. 

“The pollinator garden is different from a regular garden in that the intention of this type is to attract pollinators to native plants, thus increasing biodiversity and ecosystem services,” said Jenny Vise, the WJHS seventh grade science teacher who organized the garden. “A regular garden might be utilized more so for aesthetic enjoyment or food production.” 

Vise said while she had been wanting to establish a garden for awhile, another WJHS employee came up with the idea to dedicate it to Elsa. 

“The pollinator garden was an idea I thought of when brainstorming ways to improve the recess area for our students,” Vise said. “The garden dedication was an idea credited to our former assistant principal Amber Cruser, who asked if it could be a place for Elsa and her friends to enjoy. An idea for a dedication is in the works, but I don’t have an official plan yet.” 

With the help of funding through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Schoolyard Habitat Action Grant Program, Monroe County Electric Cooperative’s Touchstone Energy Grant and roughly 50 student volunteers, the garden is mostly completed, Vise said. 

She is currently waiting on stone edging and stepping stones. 

The garden is not the only thing that connects Vise, Cruser and the Wiemerslages. Cruser’s first husband passed away from cancer, and Vise’s brother also battled leukemia, although a different kind, like Elsa. 

“My late husband battled cancer.  Since then, I’ve definitely wanted to help families going through the same,” Cruser said. “Unfortunately, when one of your close family members has cancer, your world is completely shifted.  Those that have experienced this do have a sense of understanding with others who are going through similar experiences.”

Elsa’s mother Adrienne Wiemerslage met Vise when she worked at WJHS. She said as she shared Elsa’s story with Vise, Vise shared hers. 

“I couldn’t believe it when she told me,” Adrienne said, as Acute Myeloid Leukemia, what Elsa is battling, and Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia, what Vise’s brother was diagnosed with as a child and overcame, are both much more likely to impact adults than children. 

The garden fell in line with one of Elsa’s main interests – protecting the earth. So, when Vise pitched the idea to Adrienne, it was another fate-like moment, Adrienne said. 

“We felt incredibly honored,” Adrienne said. “It was cool because she had no idea how passionate Elsa is about helping the earth and bees … so when she approached us, it was perfect.”

Vise agreed the project was made even more special given the unique experiences the three share.

“It’s interesting that three different families have been touched by cancer and have been brought together by a garden,” Vise said. 

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