When art teacher Jane Beran looked at the weed-lined former swimming pool in Sidney, Neb., she saw possibilities for a beautiful new garden. Her vision took root and flowered into reality, thanks to a local government receptive to fresh ideas and a community willing to volunteer time and labor toward a common goal.
Beran approached the city council about her idea for the pool in 1982. A new municipal pool had been dedicated in town in 1978, and since that time the now-defunct pool in Legion Park had become unused and abandoned. The council gave Beran two weeks to come up with a plan for transforming the site, telling her that after that deadline, they would begin taking bids for the pool’s demolition.
Beran’s hope was to see the pool turned into a sunken garden. With feedback from the community and an inspiring idea from resident Helen Hiner, a plan for a memorial garden – with trees, shrubs and plants growing in the memory of loved ones – developed, and the Living Memorial Gardens was born. The LMG Association was organized, and monthly meetings were scheduled for anyone interested in helping.
The first phase of the project was to lay out the area on the west side of the pool as a map of the United States. By the summer of 1982, the sunken gardens were becoming a reality, with three terraces and paths to the site where fountains would be constructed within the old pool. Membership reached 125, and funds were received from the city, as well as various clubs, memorials and individuals. The project was truly a community effort.
The first memorial dedication took place July 4, 1983. By the following year, the map areas were being adopted by members who wanted their own garden plot to care for – a practice that continues today. Some of those members were Boy Scouts, 4-H clubs and Job’s Daughters, as well as individuals.
By July 1985, the Living Memorial Gardens was a place to mark Sidney’s centennial, and volunteers continued to be the force behind all the work at the LMG, writing fundraising editorials and providing manpower to keep the gardens going.
Some 10 years later, in 1992, Kate and Neil Holstein moved to Sidney and wanted to help at the gardens. Kate jumped right in and started making presentations to various clubs and groups, as well as to the city of Sidney. Eventually, the city decided to give the gardens an annual income to pay for a part-time employee.
In 1994, the Army Corps of Engineers came to Sidney and put in a flood plan that ran the length of Lodgepole Creek, through Legion Park. This resulted in tearing down the park’s band shell, which had been the outdoor stage for live music for 40 years. Not long after the flood plan was completed, Bill Forkerts, representing the Sidney chapter of the American Legion, approached the LMG Association and suggested placing a gazebo in the gardens. The city council became involved, and by October 1999, groundbreaking started for the American Legion Gazebo. The sunken garden area was backfilled with dirt, and the gazebo was built upon it, surrounded by grass.
The American Legion Gazebo was dedicated Sept. 17, 2000, and since then, about a dozen weddings have been held there each year. The Ladies’ Chamber’s annual July 4 activities and the city’s Gold Rush Days are also held at the gazebo. Through the years, income from renting the gazebo for weddings and other parties has helped underwrite some of the Living Memorial Gardens’ expenses.
Last year, the gardens celebrated its 25th anniversary. A 98th birthday party for Helen Hiner was part of the celebration’s activities.
The Living Memorial Gar-dens has been blessed with many wonderful volunteers over the years. A new project called The Angel of Hope is being planned for the old baby pool area. It will provide another place for visitors to remember loved ones who have passed on.
Jane Beran’s vision of a beautiful garden is alive and flourishing today. The Living Memorial Gardens is frequented each year by both locals and visitors from across the United States.