How Arlington Heights Girl Scouts are honoring the memory of troop member
One year after an 11-year old Arlington Heights girl died from a cardiac condition, her Girl Scout troop continues to keep her memory alive.
In recounting their friend, Anna Hrtanek, they kept coming up with more attributes to describe her, from fun-loving, outgoing, confident, athletic and dreaming of one day playing tennis at Northwestern, to someone who was kind and sought out others who might not have as many friends.
Consequently, they said, her sudden passing left them stunned, upset and ultimately determined.
At a meeting last week at South Middle School, the sixth-graders learned final details of a project they have been working on all year -- establishing a memorial bench in their friend's honor at Pioneer Park in Arlington Heights.
The park setting was fitting, they said, since Anna and her father, Matthew, often played tennis there and their friend loved its wide-open spaces to run around and chase butterflies.
It turns out the Arlington Heights Park District has a memorial bench program that offers a special place of remembrance. The total cost is $1,800, which includes installing the bench, its upkeep and remembrance plaque.
"We wanted to do something in her honor," said Sarah Koegel, 12, of Arlington Heights, "something that would last and would be a way to remember her."
At the time of her passing, Anna's classmates at Westgate Elementary School in Arlington Heights started a campaign to tie purple ribbons around trees in the village. Students at South Middle School, where Anna would have attended the following year, held a purple-out, with everyone in the school donning purple leis in honor of her favorite color.
"After a few months, the squirrels kind of got to the ribbons," says Natalie Burkhardt, 12, of Arlington Heights. "We wanted something that would last, so we started brainstorming for ways to raise the money."
They settled on making jewelry and looked on Pinterest for do-it-yourself projects. Next, they approached South Principal Piper Boston about expanding their fundraising efforts to become a schoolwide club.
"They had a very clear vision -- and a purpose," Boston says. "They came to me to make it broader."
Boston agreed to allow the Scouts to form Cardinals Craft for a Cause, which encouraged students to meet after school to make jewelry that they could sell. All together, they made more than 100 acorn marble necklaces and ones made with washers painted with different colored nail polish.
Next, they sold their collection at Girl Scout functions in March and at the variety show at their former school, Westgate Elementary.
"We were really surprised at the response," says Hallie Swanson, 11, of Arlington Heights. "People really liked the fact that we had made all of the jewelry."
In 10 weeks, they reached their goal of raising the money needed to order the bench -- and then some. At last week's meeting, the Scouts discussed what to do with the $450 surplus they had raised.
Suggestions ranged from contributing to a park district scholarship program to subsidize the payment of class fees for those unable to afford the full price, to starting a foundation in their friend's name.
Ultimately, they learned that the bench had been ordered and that her family had chosen the southwestern corner of the park, at Fairview Street and Kennicott Avenue, where the bench will be placed in the fall. They also learned that an anonymous donor had contributed the cost to purchase a redbud tree, which will bloom with purple flowers every spring.
All of their efforts moved Anna's family, including her parents and younger brother and sister.
"When you lose your child, it is tough to smile some days, but we smiled every time we heard about their progress towards the bench and now every time we see the bench in the future at Pioneer Park, it will truly bring a smile to our faces and remind us of our Anna," Matthew Hrtanek said.