Memorial bench unveiled for Heather Nash
DOWAGIAC — Heather Nash is no longer with the community of Dowagiac, but memories of her contributions to the city can be found all over.
They come in the form of Little Free Libraries scattered throughout the three wards, a colorful and modern playground at Patrick Hamilton Elementary — and now, a memorial park bench dedicated to Nash, which sits directly behind the playground.
On Wednesday, friends, family members and fellow educators gathered at Patrick Hamilton to celebrate and remember the former principal, who loved ones said gave her all to the community, her students and her friendships.
Nash died on Dec. 27, 2018, at the age of 45. She began her career teaching in the Dowagiac Union School District. She taught kindergarten at Sister Lakes Elementary School for eight years and ended her career as principal of Patrick Hamilton for 11 years.
In addition to the bench, another item will contribute to the remembrance of Nash and her impact on the school. Deputy Superintendent Dawn Connor wrote a book to honor Nash, which will be placed in the Patrick Hamilton Library for students to read and draw inspiration from.
The book, titled “How to be a Hero: Memoirs of Heather Nash,” narrates how students can all be heroes and follow in the footsteps of their past principal.
“I know what she did here. She wants you to carry on forever in your lives,” Connor said. “We are all going to be heroes.”
The book narrated the values of learning, loving students and staff, and encouraged students to go out and get what they want, to love reading, to have a best friend, to follow the rules — except in fifth grade versus teachers’ kickball games — and lastly, to live every day to its fullest.
“She wanted to live life every day like it was her last day,” Connor said.
Also speaking at the celebration was Patrick Hamilton PTO member Randi Taggart, who helped collect funds for the memorial bench in Nash’s memory. Taggart said Nash was the kind of educator who took the time to know every student individually, including their name and their story.
“I just loved Mrs. Nash because she was so good to all of our children at the school,” Taggart said. “My kids would come home, time and time again, and tell about all the funny things Mrs. Nash would do and how much they loved her. I’m just really happy we could be here today to celebrate her life and all of the memories that we have with her.”
Fitting 14 years of memories into a speech proved effortless for Crystal Henninger, a special education teacher at Patrick Hamilton, who knew Nash and at one point taught alongside her.
Henninger recalled hearing Nash’s voice from across the school building as she spoke with spirit and an infectious personality that shined through on everything she did.
Nash was the kind of principal that was also a great friend, Henninger said. Nash would bring the staff at Patrick Hamilton breakfast sandwiches, bake them cupcakes, help them rescue dogs and act as a shoulder to lean on and an outlet to talk to.
“If anything, take an example from Mrs. Nash and be a great friend to those that need it,” Henninger said. “Mrs. Nash had this amazing way of making school fun, not only in learning, but being this spirit that filled the school with positivity.”
The memorial bench dedicated to Nash sits, looking on the modern playground that she worked on tirelessly to get built for the students of Patrick Hamilton, attendees said. Before Nash died, she applied for a grant through the Pokagon Fund. A grant of $28,000 was awarded, and the playground gained six new pieces for students and the children of the community to use.
“Mrs. Nash will live on in the memories at Patrick Hamilton. She will live on in the stories we tell, and she will live on in this playground,” Henninger said. “I know her laugh and spirit will be remembered forever, and she would want you to enjoy the playground every day.”
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