Youngsters observe 9/11 with memorial trees to Brandi (Rockwell) Peli and Kiel Bobbitt

PAT FRIDGEN
Kerri Barnes, director of Tayamentasachta Environmental Center, checks the depth of a hole dug by elementary school students. Two trees were planted Monday in memory of former Greencastle-Antrim School District graduates.

Greencastle-Antrim students who were babies or not yet born on Sept. 11, 2001, participated in a service project on Sept. 12, 2011 as a way of giving back to the community, and to honor the American ideals targeted on that fateful day.

The 9/11 project added two sugar maples to a line of trees paralleling the path between the middle and elementary schools. One was planted in memory of 2007 high school graduate Kiel Bobbitt, who died May 1, 2008, and the other in memory of 2006 graduate Brandi (Rockwell) Peli, who died Aug. 5.

Tayamentasachta Environmental Center director Kerri Barnes, who spearheaded the project, knew both of the young people. Though she never taught Bobbitt in her high school science classes, he stopped in her classroom each day after school. This year his youngest sister Ema, a senior, is interning with Barnes.

Barnes had Rockwell and her husband Roman Peli in biology. She explained to the elementary students that Peli was now serving in Afghanistan, in the war launched after the terrorist attacks.

The fifth-grade students of Jenelle Wagner and the fourth-grade students of Darlene Signore dug the holes for the trees. Signore had a special interest in the activity, since her daughter Sarah was best friends with Rockwell, so she sponsored a tree. Bobbitt’s family had also wanted an opportunity to remember him, but his mother Lori was taken unaware.

Ema told her to be at the school at a particular time for a surprise. That’s when she discovered the tree would be planted.

Now 10 trees stand ready for maple syrup tapping, once they are of appropriate size. That is a traditional experience for fifth-grade students through the environmental center. Five were planted in memory of loved ones. The others were for Robert “Red” Pensinger, Nathan “Nate” Byers, and Leo “Pap” Ritacco.

Barnes said through the years people and businesses donated money for the trees, and the children could take pride in being part of planting the latest two.

“It’s a great way to remember a loved one. The family gets a sense of peace and they can watch it grow.”

As the students grew up, they could also remember their role on a sunny September day.

Two trees were planted Monday in memory of former Greencastle-Antrim School District graduates.