Kings Totem Pole:Happy ending to a sad story

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:13

    WARWICK-Kings Elementary School has a totem pole again. And the Gladys Dunn Outdoor Learning Area outside Kings Elementary School is now an Official National Wildlife Federation Schoolyard Habitats Site. The new totem brings to a close a sad turn of events with the previous totem pole. Kings third grade teacher Pat Reinhardt explained that the first totem had been created by a teacher at Vernon High School and he had made it with 12 neurologically impaired students. "He knew what we were doing over here and he offered it to me. At that time I was teaching one of the Fodor boys and I called Mr. Fodor and asked if he could pick up this tree, this totem. Mike Fodor died on 9/11. He was a great guy." It stood aside the school for 14 years and then it started to rot. So it was taken down to be restored and then by mistake it was discarded. "So our dream was to put another totem up. Laroe Sawmill Lumber donated a tree." A Kings parent, Duane Card, volunteered to have it brought to his house. "It's been in his garage for almost two years. And people would come over and carve," said Reinhardt, including Don Stark, a commercial artist from Sugar Loaf who carves totem poles as well. "It's a hobby," said Stark. Helping in the carving were Duane Card and Bob Linguanti. The totem stands 16 feet, and will be taken down next week for painting, said Stark. "It's got part of a little bit of each tribe. I would call it pan-tribal." The pole will be taken back to Stark's barn for the painting and also for weather and mold proofing. "And if you like the pole now, said Stark, "wait until you see it painted." Totems are not religious symbols, although in addition to images of dead relatives and the chronicling of family events, some tribes also depicted spirit helpers. Totem poles were primarily carved by Northwest Coast Native Americans. They were raised in ceremonies called potlatches, which were deemed illegal in Canada in the late 1800s. That law was repealed in 1951 and crafting of the poles resumed. Also at last weekend's festival were three Eagle Scouts from Troop 122, who had completed projects, including a shed for containing science lab materials. Eighth graders Laura Mahr and Anna Bisaro recited poetry of Emily Dickinson. "I'm nobody! Who are you? ….." Poetry of Kings Elementary School students was on display. Gladys Dunn, for whom the outdoor learning center is named, was a Kings Elementary School teacher for 26 years. "She was a great teacher," said Reinhardt. "She was very interested in environmental education and when she died this was started." In October 2001 teachers and students planted 6,000 daffodils in remembrance of those killed on September 11. And an area of the site is dedicated to a former kindergarten teacher, Sandra Shanbaum, who died of cancer in 2000. There are five gardens and four outdoor classrooms. Two gardens were created with the help of a master gardener, with 25 indigenous herbs planted. It is hoped they will yield herbs that can be dried and available for teas at next fall's Kings Karnival. Reinhardt's class planted an herb garden two weeks ago. Also, a "Three Sisters Garden" was planted, an Iroquois-type garden, with beans, corn and squash. On the National Wildlife Federation plaque reads the goal of the Gladys Dunn Outdoor Learning Area: "By providing wildlife with food, water, cover and places to raise young, these grounds offer outdoor learning opportunities for students and the entire community." One can walk the Rainbow Trail to get a bit of something Reinhardt says we don't get enough of, quiet and peace. Those involved aren't deterred by recent vandalism of the area's longhouse (a traditional Iroquoi home). The teacher adds her own comments on the main underlying purpose of the outdoor center, "The kids have to get ownership. That's the whole point."