Basalt students remember classmate at ‘Erik’s Place’ | AspenTimes.com

Basalt students remember classmate at ‘Erik’s Place’

A marble marker behind Basalt High School show's the place where Erik's Place can be found in honor of Erik *** who died suddenly last year from health problems. Paul Conrad photo.

Tears alone weren’t going to cut it for Basalt High School students reeling from the loss of popular classmate Erik Newbury.

After Newbury died unexpectedly June 14, 2001, from a heart condition his family didn’t know existed and is almost impossible to diagnose, his schoolmates eased their grieving by planning, raising funds and helping build a wonderfully landscaped memorial park out the back door of Basalt High.

The space is about 110 feet long and 70 feet wide. It is lined by trees and shrubs, sitting logs and, at the west side, concrete poured in the shape of infinity circles signifying everlasting life. The center of the grassy courtyard was left open and often students string up a volleyball net there.

In one landscaped area is a beautiful piece of white marble inscribed with the words “Erik’s Place.” It was sculpted by Erik’s uncle, Steve Kentz.

High school principal Jim Waddick views the space not so much as a memorial to Erik but as a fitting focus for his classmates’ grieving. Often, he said, kids are hit especially hard by the loss of a friend, but try to move on without totally working out their grief.

“These kids kept the idea alive of what they wanted to do for more than a year,” Waddick said.

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As far as memorials go, it’s got a subtle feel ? a place where you feel comfortable and happy to visit. The mood created there perfectly reflects the boy it honors, said several of Erik’s classmates, now in their junior year.

“It’s more like a happy memorial,” said Leslie Benson, who helped with the planning of Erik’s Place. “It’s an active place rather than a stone you sit by [and grieve].”

Not that the grieving has entirely faded. Erik’s friends will always feel the loss, said Rochelle Moebius, “but this helps.”

Students working with science teacher Mark Duff came up with the idea of creating something fitting in honor of Newbury. Benson, Moebius and A.J. Hobbs were among the students who worked with parents Holly Benson, Marcee Hobbs and Shae Ross on the plan for Erik’s Place.

The students devised numerous ways to raise funds to buy trees and material. The classes held a competition of collecting spare change, for example, and the school’s production of “Grease” featured a bake sale.

The entire school helped, but the effort was particularly therapeutic for Erik’s classmates. “I think it was good for our grade,” said Benson. The loss and process of being emotional in front of one another brought them closer, she said.

Fund-raising kicked off May 14, on what would have been Erik’s birthday. Over the next six weeks, numerous students and adults volunteered time, and several businesses donated their services. Aspen Earthmoving helped prepare the site. Guido and Trish Meyer of Colorado Tree Ranch provided trees and shrubs. Ackerman Logs provided sitting logs.

The site was dedicated June 14, on the one-year anniversary of Erik’s death. On that day, the infinity circles were poured by T.J. Concrete and participants inscribed their initials, hand prints or words in honor of Erik.

“It showed not only how our grade cared but how the entire community felt about Erik,” said Hobbs.

Moebius said the special quality of the living memorial is that it will continue to improve with time as the trees and shrubs mature and the use of the space is institutionalized by students. The space, she stressed, isn’t just for his classmates or even just for students. It’s for everyone in the community.

Ross said the space will evolve into a living memorial to all midvalley kids who, unfortunately, meet an untimely death. “He’s not going to be the only one,” Ross said. “I hope people realize this is a place where they all can come.”

Leslie Newbury, Erik’s mom, said Erik’s Place and the effort the students and parents put into creating it are appreciated beyond description by her family. June 14 was a very difficult day for them but the dedication of Erik’s Place helped ease the pain.

“It just filled our hearts,” Newbury said. “It is a very special place.”

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]