CAMDEN -- Faye George, 79, recently recalled fond memories of the Fourth-of-July celebrations of her childhood, when crowds would gather in her small hometown of Franklin, Ind., to catch the annual parade followed by a picnic and fellowship with family and friends.
"The World War II era was especially meaningful because my brother was in the Army," she said.
But this year the annual event took on even more significance as Father T.J. Hart, pastor of St. Louis Church in Camden, was joined by three seminarians from the Diocese of Little Rock to dedicate a meditation garden behind the parish hall. The garden bears a stone with George's name and that of her deceased husband, Perry, while the Blessed Virgin Mary looks on from a nearby hillside perch flowing with ivy and other plants. The spot serves as a memorial to other deceased veterans, especially parishioners of the church, including Sam Serio, Charles Cline, Les Morgan, Chuck Zoerner, Leo Link and Charles Smith.
For Faye George, the moment was bittersweet. Her husband died six years ago on July 1 and the dedication followed Sunday Mass July 4. She gently wiped tears from her eyes as she reflected on her 50-year marriage to Perry George and what the small parish in south Arkansas had come to mean to them.
"He loved this church and he loved the people here so much," she said. "My only request was that when the garden was created that a stone bear his name, so I was humbled and surprised to see it has my name, too."
The spot, which has been transformed into a peaceful respite for parishioners, was once a dirt and gravel area leading to the back stairs of the church. It is the fruition of a dream set by Faye George while still serving as church secretary of the parish, long before her husband's health deteriorated and her knees started giving out. George retired two years ago after seven years at the parish so she could visit with grown children now scattered around the country, but she would always return to her home parish in Camden with the hope that one day the garden might somehow get done.
What she didn't realize was that at about the same time, parishioner Anthony Grummer, 18, a senior at Camden High School, was looking for a worthwhile service project to tackle to earn his Eagle Scout badge, the highest rank afforded any Boy Scout.
"I went to the Knights of Columbus for some ideas," Grummer said. "When they told me that Ms. Faye had already mentioned the garden, I felt it was the perfect thing to do ... She does more than just about anyone I've ever seen for our church to keep everything going."
Grummer, who began the project in earnest after the parish council approved the blueprints for it last fall, would get out of school around 3:30 p.m. and immediately head to the church to work for two hours before going to his part-time job at a local fast food restaurant.
Several parishioners occasionally contributed to Grummer's labor-intensive work in the garden, including his father, Mark Grummer, who was familiar with laying flagstone from the long-ago days when he had contemplated being a monk at Subiaco Abbey.
At the July 4 dedication, Father Hart said the garden reminded Catholics who visited it of the close ties of Mother Mary to her Church, "who serves as a model the Church must follow for complete union with Christ."
Father Hart said that many hours and much sweat had been poured into the garden's creation, which he hoped would be used as a place for "peace and grace" when needed. Parishioners followed the dedication with congratulatory cake and punch in the parish hall in honor of Father Hart's third anniversary of his ordination as a priest and in honor of his 40th birthday.
But for Faye George, the day began and ended with the selfless dedication of Grummer -- a young man who shares with her a Dec. 11 birthday.
"God brings special people into our lives and he brought me Anthony," George concluded.
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