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Topeka High ceramics teacher honors local lives lost to COVID with memorial garden

Published: Mar. 23, 2021 at 10:00 AM CDT|Updated: Mar. 22, 2021 at 12:00 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A ceramics teacher at Topeka High School found a unique way to honor local people who are among the more than 500-thousand lives lost to COVID-19. She’s created a memorial garden made of clay flowers.

The garden has been placed near the entrance and greets students as they walk into Topeka High School.

“In the beginning, it was originally to let the students know that this is real, it is happening,” said Susan Winkelman.

Her project took on new meaning though, when she lost a family member to COVID-19.

“My father-in-law passed away in November, but I had this idea going back in September and October,” Winkelman continued saying, “So, it just happened that he was one of the first flowers in there.”

The ‘Covid Memorial Garden’ is now filled with nearly a dozen clay flowers, each is inscribed with the name of family members of Topeka High students and staff who died of the virus.

Winkelman said, “You’re able to remember them. There’s a place where you can go and see their name on a leaf by a flower and maybe be a little more at ease with what’s going on in the world right now, that they weren’t forgotten.”

She said while the process of making the flowers starts the same, no two are alike.

Winkelman described how she creates each unique design, taking gentle care to mold and shape each one.

She described it as being, “very therapeutic,” and said now this project that helped her cope with her own loss, is serving as a remembrance for others.

“For some, it might be part of the grieving process, and being able to help them through it, it’s very emotional,” Winkelman continued saying, “I’ve received a lot of thank you’s and that means a lot.”

Winkelman is currently working on nine more flowers, from names submitted by Topeka High students.

She said she wants to thank the district for supporting her on this project and creating the memorial garden sign and metal shaping used to make the flower petal cutouts.

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