Spring Guide 2024: Warner’s memory lives on through YMCA learning garden

Published 10:48 am Tuesday, April 2, 2024

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

Kathleen Warner was a beloved figure in her career field, community and family, and as of March 23, her legacy is now memorialized at the YMCA of Chilton County with the newly expanded Kathy Warner Memorial Orchard.

Warner, who was an active member of the YMCA and had a passion for education and children, unexpectedly passed in November 2023. She was a high school teacher in her early life and became a Diagnostic Medical Sonography (DMS) educator, teaching students at UAB and initiating a DMS program at Lawson State Community College.

Following her passing, her husband, Lee Warner, and the rest of her family requested that donations be made to the YMCA to benefit the learning garden that the facility was in the process of creating and expanding. Lee Warner said the YMCA became like a second home for he and his wife and the two grew close with the staff. Being able to see the donations made in Kathleen Warner’s honor physically and locally was a huge motive for the Warner family to request that donations go towards the garden.

On March 23, a dedication service was held at the YMCA of Chilton County to commemorate the garden in Kathleen Warner’s name, and give guests a chance to see the finished product.

“Lori (Patterson), Liz (Doonan) and their team have just done a phenomenal job with it, it is beautiful,” Lee Warner said. “It is a great tribute to my wife Kathy and who she was, and I could not be more grateful for it. The service itself was great. The gathering in the gym, time to reflect on what the garden does for the community, and also taking a moment reflecting on who Kathy was and why this is a good fit for her memorial.”

The Warner family, friends, YMCA members and Chilton County residents all attended the service. Lee Warner spoke to the crowd about his wife’s legacy, and what it means to him and the family to have the garden dedicated to her. Refreshments, fellowship and a chance to tour the garden followed the dedication service.

“This is something we have been looking forward to since January, and we have been working really hard to prepare and get the expansion (of the garden) ready for today,” Lori Patterson, CEO of the YMCA of Chilton County, said. “We have a lot of new vegetables, new fruits, new trees and everything is ready to grow and flourish.”

The outdoor space is used for many programs the YMCA hosts such as gardening, cooking, cooperation, friendship, poetry, health and more. The garden is planted and maintained by the youth (kindergarten-seventh grade) involved with the afterschool and summer programs at the YMCA. The youth weed the garden, check for insects and use the food they grow to cook with and eat, giving them another way to try new and nutritious food they may not have tried before.

The produce and flowers from the garden will also be sold at a market run by the YMCA on two Fridays in June and two Fridays in July, and it will be out front at the entrance. The money raised at the market will go back towards the garden.

The thought to build a learning garden came about because it gave the children a different way to get active and interested in nutrition, but it has become more than that, learning about things like teamwork and friendship.

“When planning summer camp and afterschool, we are always trying to come up with ideas, activities or content areas that will interest them, and I like to introduce things that will also keep them active too,” Patterson said.

The donations made in Kathleen Warner’s honor helped expand the garden by adding fruit trees, a vineyard, a 50×15 garden bed, blueberry and blackberry bushes, picnic tables, a fence and a memorial bench bearing her name.

“When (Kathleen) and Lee moved to this community and came into the Y, they just embraced the things we stand for — youth development, social responsibility and us trying to have an impact on our community,” Patterson said. “They became very involved very quickly … Their presence was here. She is someone, me personally, I am going to miss, but as a team we are going to miss her too.”

The Kathy Warner Memorial Orchard and Youth Nutrition & Agricultural Learning Lab can be viewed at the YMCA of Chilton County at 405 Ollie Ave., Clanton.