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Her life may have been all too temporary, but the impact 15-year-old Sarah Grace Stanley had before tragedy took her life exactly two years ago is as permanent as the piece of art that has been erected in her honor.
The public art titled "Garden of Grace" -- a giant version of her own artwork that was originally made of repurposed colored pencils -- will be permanently mounted beside and above Minerva City Hall near the Art Spot on Market Street. Sarah's parents, Bill and Denise Stanley, many of her friends and former Art Spot owner Marty Chapman crafted "Garden of Grace" over a period of 15 months out of Marine plywood, PVC pipe and wood. The tribute will also include a plaque with a photo of a younger Sarah doing what she loved -- art.
Out-numbered in the Stanley family by three brothers, Sarah was described by her parents as an active teen, always keeping busy. "She was fun loving. She made an impression like you would never forget," her dad Bill said. "She was always happy and wanted to have fun. I know I'm her mom, but she was my best buddy," Denise added.
Sarah's two loves were animals -- often participating in 4H and dreaming of becoming a veterinary assistant -- and art -- a talent she inherited from her grandmother and other relatives.
In fact, Sarah had just painted her room, a blank canvas if you will, with the intent of adding colorful designs to the walls Aug. 1, 2015, but she was never able to complete that art project. That day Sarah went with her older brother, Aaron, to do some work on a farm. While riding on the back of a Gator utility vehicle, Sarah was partially ejected and hit her neck on a fence when her brother swerved off the road to avoid an oncoming truck going at a high rate of speed.
Sarah's mom, Denise, called it a freak accident and the worst day of her life. Denise was in Arizona at the time taking care of her father when she got the call any parent would dread. "It was horrible," she recalled. "In some ways I think God was protecting me though because if I had been here I don't think I could have handled what they had to go through."
After services that brought out about 900 people, the Stanley family had to grieve the loss and try to survive it. "I think we're just working on healing. That's the main thing is trying to heal from it all," Denise said.
"I don't think it ever gets easier," expressed said, adding that she was lucky to spend almost every day with her daughter which left her with no regrets. "I enjoyed every minute with her, so I have a lot of good; I don't have any bad. I miss her like crazy. I have a big empty house with tumbleweeds blowing through it."
While her family had to say goodbye, signs of Sarah are all around, as her creativity can be seen throughout the Stanley home. A piece of Sarah's art can be found in each room. "Everywhere I go, there's something," Denise said. "That's all she did was art and crafts."
Sarah started her crafting at a very young age, her mom said. At 2 or 3 years old, she began making googly eye creatures that she sold for a quarter to make money to buy candy. From there she expanded her crafts as she got older.
Whether it was matches, feathers, bottle caps, lady bugs, pencil shavings, light bulbs, movie ticket stubs or aluminum pieces from a beer can, Sarah loved to create art out of random things she would find. "No matter what she found, she had to create something with it," Denise said.
The Stanley children were home-schooled, which gave them some extra time and freedom to pursue their interests. Denise said when Sarah wasn't looking after her animals she was doing crafts. "She would say, 'I can't stop crafting,'" Denise recalled with a laugh.
She also liked to share her works of art, often giving them away to friends and family. "It's amazing how many people I talk to who say, 'This is what Sarah gave me,'" Bill said. He said they keep finding just how many people have a piece of Sarah that she had given them.
Shortly before her death, Sarah had begun selling some of her art. One piece, a 3-D wall hanging with colored pencils protruding from it in an interesting design that was a perfect example of the teen's creativity, was purchased by Minerva High School's art teacher. But after the tragedy, the teacher gave the piece back to her parents, knowing just what it would mean to them. That piece became the inspiration to the public art that will keep Sarah's memory alive.
A dedication ceremony will be held Sunday, Aug. 27, with live music from 6:30 to 7 p.m. prior to the ceremony. In addition, some of Sarah's other artwork, as well as some done by her family members, will be on display at the Art Spot that day.
Denise said there are positive things have come out of the tragedy -- the public art being one of them, which she said Sarah would have loved. The family is also setting up a scholarship in her name through the Greater Alliance Foundation that will benefit other 4Hers. Both things will give assurance that Sarah's short life will not be forgotten, just as those gifts of her creativity she shared with anyone she could will.
"She came and did what she was supposed to do and she loved everybody," Denise added. "She touched so many lives it's unbelievable and in a very short amount of time."