On their car rides to work together, Dana Petersen would often tell her husband, Tom, about a courtyard in the center of Marion Jordan Elementary.
During her 10 years as principal of the Palatine school, Dana looked out her office window and saw an overgrown, underutilized space that she hoped one day would become a welcoming area for every student.
On Monday, during a ribbon cutting with more than 70 people in attendance, that vision became a reality.
After gathering in the school's library for a small ceremony, smiling family members, co-workers and friends walked outside to enjoy the new seating, decorative stone path and flowers on the Petersen Patio.
The only person missing was Dana.
The 49-year-old woman died in June 2011 after a battle with breast cancer, leaving behind Tom, their 15-year-old daughter Emily and their 14-year-old daughter Carli.
Tom said he was asked to come see the patio before Monday, but he wanted it to be a surprise.
"It reminds me of what she would've wanted this space to be -- something that everyone at the school could enjoy and use, the staff and the students," he said.
The family included a few personal touches in the design of the patio, such as transferring a few plants Dana had gardened at their home to the courtyard.
"It really is a reflection of Dana and that really makes me happy, and I know it makes our girls happy too," Tom said.
Emily also recalled her mom talking about courtyard. She said the finished project was very special.
"I think it's really pretty," she said, while wiping a tear from her eye. "It's really nice that they did this for my mom."
Principal Jennifer Grosch said students have already been out on the patio, doing science experiments and reading stories aloud.
"I know there were so many people who loved and cared for her; they'll now continue that love and care in this space in her honor," she said.
Dana's brother, Dave Starr, said he hopes the children at the school will enjoy the space.
"This is awesome," he said. "Dana would absolutely love this. She cared so much about the school and about all the kids. They did something that would honor her, but also would benefit all the kids. It couldn't be better than that."
About 150 bricks on a path have the names of family, friends, former students' parents and community members who contributed funds to the memorial, said school secretary Karen Roiland.
"I know that she's ecstatic that it's done," Roiland said of Dana, whose presence she felt at the event. "She had the vision and this was the best thing we could do with the donations we received."