Bella's Butterfly Garden takes flight
Jeanie Morgan is convinced the spirit of Iszabella "Bella" Morgan presided over the Saturday dedication of Bella's Butterfly Garden, a new Mitchell park named in her daughter's memory.
Bella died March 24, 2012, when drunken driver Michael Ray Sedlmeier ran a stop sign at the intersection of First Avenue and Duff Street in Mitchell and collided with an SUV in which Bella was a passenger.
Several hundred well-wishers gathered at Northridge Park Saturday to dedicate the special garden to release butterflies, enjoy a luncheon and hear a message of love, determination and hope.
Jeanie Morgan said the loss of her 9-year-old daughter was a crushing personal blow, but the park in named in her honor will be part of her family's healing.
Morgan said she is dedicating her life to spreading the word about the dangers of drunken driving, but her daughter's loss remains fresh in her mind.
"Friday would have been her 11th birthday," said Morgan. "In Bella's honor, I performed 11 acts of kindness.
"I still attend grief counseling every week," she said. "You never get over losing such a beautiful blessing, but I take each day a day at at time."
Morgan said that in her wildest dreams she never could have envisioned losing her daughter, nor could she have believed there would be the outpouring of community support that buoyed her through dark times and culminated in Bella's Butterfly Garden, which reflects her daughter's love of butterflies.
"I feel truly blessed to be part of such a wonderful community," she said.
Bella's father, Ryan Anderson, who works at Trail King, was equally touched. He was thankful for donations made to the memorial by his company and by fellow workers.
Though it wasn't installed in time for Saturday's dedication, a plaque will be placed at the park that tells Bella's story and the larger purpose for the memorial.
It will read, in part: "The butterfly reminds us that after a time of transition and pain, there comes beauty, as well as the celebration of life. We hope Bella's Butterfly Garden will be a symbol of this progress. Please remember to always wear your seat belt and DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE."
The Rev. Larry Regynski said butterflies live lives of beauty and purpose as they carry pollen from one flower to another.
"Without butterflies, the world soon would have no flowers. Bella was like a beautiful butterfly to us. In her short time with us, she carried the seeds of love from her heart to each of our hearts. Our lives will never be the same because they were touched by our precious Bella."
The memorial park was built with private donations and the cooperation of the city of Mitchell. It features a entry arch and sign and a landscaped meandering path that culminates in a circular area surrounded by butterfly-motif seats. The reverse side of the arch reads, "What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly."
The names of donors who contributed to the memorial radiate from a central paving stone that reads "Bella." Mitchell Parks Department manager Steve Roth said the design is the work of staffers Matt Hayes and Brad Gates.
Bella died a block from the Mitchell Public Safety Center when the vehicle she was riding in was hit by 46-year-old Sedlmeier, whose vehicle reached speeds of nearly 50 mph in an attempt to elude police. Police tackled him as he ran from the accident scene. He had multiple convictions for driving under the influence, according to prior reports. He is now serving a 40-year sentence in prison on manslaughter charges related to the incident.
Sedlmeier's decision to drive impaired wasn't, and isn't, unique, said Morgan.
"It doesn't always happen that they hurt somebody, but every day, there are many, many drunk drivers on our roads."
A tragedy like her daughter's death may have a temporary dampening effect, but it will take a sustained effort to stop drunken driving, she said.
"Each day, I have to get up in the morning and make sure her message is heard about not drinking and driving and always wearing your seat belt," Morgan said.