Teachers, activists and other members of the American Canyon community are being memorialized with special plaques on picnic tables and benches by the local parks foundation.
The plaques are a way for the American Canyon Community and Parks Foundation to raise money for local recreation programs, and allow friends and families the chance to remember both the living and the dead.
“It’s a great way to give back to the community and to honor a special friend,” said Julie Angold.
The Angold family contributed $1,000 to the foundation to establish a picnic table at Silver Oak Park bearing the name of Jennie Andersen.
Andersen taught at nearby Canyon Oaks Elementary School until she died last July of brain cancer. The first grade teacher was only 40 when she lost her six-year fight with the disease.
“She was so special to so many families in our school,” said Angold, who volunteered in Andersen’s classroom while her two sons attended Canyon Oaks.
“Jennie loved each and everyone” of her students “in their own special way, which is pretty amazing when you have a classroom of 25 to 30 [kids],” she said.
Colleagues of Andersen said she was not only dedicated to teaching, but also a delight to be around.
“She had one of those infectious laughs and always made everyone feel so special,” said teacher Dayna Hall, who worked with Andersen for 11 years.
“Students, parents and really anyone who had the pleasure of being in her presence always left with a smile and felt better about themselves,” said Hall. “She had a way of making you feel like you were the most important person.”
Kristin Pruitt, cousin of Andersen and a Canyon Oaks teacher, said educating kids was Andersen’s life.
“Throughout her struggles with her illness her main concern was how her students were being affected,” said Pruitt. “She was a bright shiny light that is deeply missed at [Canyon Oaks].”
Andersen spent her entire teaching career in American Canyon. After moving to Napa in her early twenties, she got her first teaching job at Donaldson Way Elementary School, where she stayed until Canyon Oaks opened its doors last decade.
She was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2011, but continued to teach for several years despite multiple surgeries and treatments that forced her to miss chunks of time from work.
The plaque bearing Andersen’s name is one of 15 being established on tables or benches in and around American Canyon by other contributors to the parks foundation.
The foundation’s president, Janelle Sellick, said a plaque will eventually be placed on a bench somewhere along the Vine Trail in honor of Paul Schapiro.
Schapiro was killed last June while riding his bicycle from Napa to American Canyon. The dedicated cyclist rode everyday between the two cities, and was honored with the Bicycle Commuter of the Year Award in 2014 from the Napa County Bicycle Coalition.
“Paul was a wonderful, gentle human being,” said Councilmember Kenneth Leary last June.
Mary Ann Mancuso wrote on Facebook shortly after Schapiro’s death: “Paul was a guy that would give you the shirt off his back whether he knew you or not.”
Not all of the plaques honor those who have died.
Some recognize the living, like longtime community members Fran Lemos and Beth Marcus, two mainstays at community events and City Council meetings.
A plaque with their names is now at Veterans Memorial Park, paid for by Deborah Castles, vice president of McGrath Properties, lead developer for Watson Ranch.
“As a part of the Watson Ranch development team, I have had an opportunity to get to know many of the people who live in American Canyon,” said Castles. “Fran Lemos and Beth Marcus became my friends during this process. I really appreciate not only their community engagement but their personal kindness to me.”