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Greg Peters column: Taking time to smell the flowers

Greg Peters

Work commutes can seem mundane, like a hamster running on a spinning wheel. It's the exact same trip over and over until the landscape surroundings achromatize into a secular strip of concrete. Many times the only noticeable scenery change in front of us is the rusted car with an aggressive bumper sticker from the Carter administration.

However, safe glances to the right or left on the very same commute can polarize your palate of

perception.

For example, at a stop light, I looked left and saw a guy through a haze of cigarette smoke head-banging with his windows rolled up. I could faintly hear "Hair of the Dog" playing in the background. At another light, I gazed to the right to see a sophisticated-looking woman performing the classic "quarter scrape" nose pick. She looked to be dressed in a power pantsuit and likely preparing for a high-level meeting by maximizing her nasal breathing passages.

We become complacent with buildings and structures after time, but it's the people providing the color; people and their history help un-bleach the beauty of life right in front of us.

This story isn't history, though, it's better stated as "her story." It's the story of Kathye Beebe. I've driven on Division Street in River Falls literally thousands of times in both directions and I've never noticed the Veteran's Memorial at Greenwood Cemetery.

"Greg, how did you not know about it (the Veteran's Memorial)?," asked Kathye.

I was always looking straight ahead. I needed to look right or left sometimes. I needed to stop and smell the flowers, literally.

You see, Kathye's always felt close to the memorial since it was constructed in 2009, but it's not because she lives just one block away from it.

"Vietnam was a tough war and I had a cousin who came back in a body bag," said Kathye.

Kathye grew up near Owatonna, Minn., but moved to River Falls in the mid-1960's to work as a lab technician at the River Falls Medical Clinic (where the Best Western Hotel is now). Her husband, Wayne Beebe, was born in River Falls in 1939 and was a teacher in town for almost 40 years.

"In a six-period day, I had seven classes," Wayne chuckled.

Speaking of work commutes, Wayne's took less time than it did for him to walk from his classroom to the teachers' lounge. The Beebes still live right across the street from the school. If you've lived in River Falls for a while, the chances are good you know Kathye and Wayne Beebe.

During your first or next stroll taken down the memorial's walk of honor, you'll see the names of those responsible for building the Veteran's Memorial and, as well, you should. Neil Anderson was the architect. Bernie Abrahamson and Ed Miller were also major contributors, as were many others. You won't, however, find Kathye Beebe's name anywhere.

"We don't all have to do great things," said Kathye, "but we do have to do some things. Gardening is something I can do."

Kathye, with help from Wayne and their family, have volunteered for 10 years and thousands of hours keeping the Veteran's Memorial looking beautiful planting and caring for shrubs and flowers.

How did Kathye begin her master gardening role?

"I grew up on a farm," she said laughing, "It was our livelihood. If you grew your own food, you know, you knew you were going to eat over the winter.

"Gardening is being outside, listening to nature, learning to appreciate it, and educating yourself on the wise."

Passing on wisdom and education of the past seems to be a theme of the statue at the Veteran's Memorial. Sculptor Mike Martino's piece of an elderly man sitting with a young child pointing at the flags is symbolic of Kathye spending time pulling weeds and gardening with her granddaughters, Alison and Olivia.

"They never gave me any lip back," said Kathye proudly, "I cherished that time with those girls. It really wasn't work at all because I enjoyed it."

"What most people don't know," Wayne said, "is she (Kathye) also did an alphabetical inventory of every gravesite for the cemetery. There's over 7,000 people buried there."

Necessity is the mother of invention in times of war and peace and while Kathye was gardening, there were so many people asking for her help finding their relatives' gravesites, she made a map. Kathye always told visitors, "I will walk with you and show you where it's (the gravesite) at."

During these walks she heard numerous stories about the people buried at Greenwood Cemetery or the reason for the visits.

Some of the gravesites at Greenwood Cemetery date back to veterans serving in the Mexican-American War in the late 1840's. There are almost 200 years of stories.

When this month's April showers bring next month's May flowers, you likely won't see Kathye Beebe gardening anymore at the Veteran's Memorial. Her health isn't as good as it used to be and she's retiring from her post.

Even though Kathye didn't serve one second in the military, what she has done the past 10 years is the very epitome of what the memorial symbolizes, sacrifice and service.

When the flags whip in the wind and the metal pulleys clank against the poles, Kathye won't hear the cars go by on Division Street, she'll hear the stories still speaking to her. She says they remind her freedom is not free.

Kathye Beebe's actual name may not be engraved on the marble at the Veteran's Memorial but

Greenwood Cemetery's soldier of love will leave a story for others to tell when they read the last line on the main memorial engraving: "May the flowers each spring symbolize new life with renewed freedom for all."

Next time you're driving into town on Division Street this summer, look to the right, stop, and smell the flowers.