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Garden dedicated to beloved former teacher

North Park Elementary honors instructor lost to cancer last school year

Posted: May 3, 2008 4:52 a.m.
Updated: July 4, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Six-year-old Mikayla Klepfer looks out onto a garden at North Park Elementary School that was dedicated in honor of her mother, Joy Klepfer, on Friday afternoon.

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Joy Klepfer loved teaching so much.

Even when she found out she had cancer; even when she lost all her hair and had to wear a hat; even when she had to miss school for chemotherapy treatments, she kept on teaching almost up until her death last November.

On Friday, North Park Elementary School dedicated a memorial garden to Klepfer, as a tribute to the teacher, wife, mother and friend who touched the hearts of so many.

"Joy - what a perfect name. She brought joy to her students, she brought joy to our staff and this garden is going to bring joy to so many people," Principal Jon Baker said. "She taught our students academics and she taught our students character - those are two things that Joy truly believed in."

Klepfer helped open North Park Elementary in 1999, served as head teacher for several years and was honored as Teacher of the Year by the SCV Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation in 2006.

Her former students remember a teacher who loved her students and loved teaching.

"She was very sweet and she loved us students," said Maddie Peterson, who started out sixth grade with Klepfer as her teacher last fall. "I could tell she loved to teach, and she was very wonderful."

Klepfer was open with her students about her battle with cancer, telling them she wore a hat because she didn't want to wear a wig. Then in November, Baker had to come to Klepfer's classroom and tell her students that she had lost her battle.

"I cried. It was very, very sad and it all just happened too fast," Peterson said. "But she just loved us and it was hard, because she was so nice, but we just had to bear it."

Klepfer's husband, Mike, and daughters, Nikki and Mikayla, were at the dedication along with several other family members who had flown in from Klepfer's home state of Illinois. Klepfer's daughters had helped plant the garden, and her family contributed part of the writings on a book pillar memorial situated under an arbor amongst the plants.

"Nikki and Mikayla, this garden is for you, too. I want you to feel like you can come here any time to feel close to your mom," said Diane Silgero-Lindsey, who taught sixth grade with Klepfer and was a close friend. "This garden would have meant so much to Joy."

Located in a sunny atrium just outside the school library, the garden is full of flowers and plants, including one called "Autumn Joy," which will bloom with beautiful pink flowers every fall. A table and benches were added so that students could work or meditate in the garden.

Fighting back tears, Mike Klepfer thanked the crowd for the garden and said that teaching was Joy's life. While most teachers look forward to summers off, Joy taught every summer of her career, until her last summer when she was just too sick.

"She loved teaching - she poured her heart and soul into it," Klepfer said. "She would not give up, because she didn't want to let her kids down."

The greatest lesson that Joy ever taught was one that Klepfer said he didn't learn until she passed away.

"Live life for today, because you don't know what will happen tomorrow," he told those gathered. "Joy would have appreciated all of us learning that lesson."

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