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Living memorial: Teen plans Scout project to remember fallen friend

Colin Christensen holds a photo
Colin Christensen holds a photo of former Strasburg High School student Brendon Barker, who was murdered in 2008. Christensen is planning a garden in his memory outside the high school as part of his Eagle Scout project. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Christensen holds an honorary digging shovel
Christensen holds an honorary digging shovel given to him by fellow crew mates from the Boy Scouts of America's Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M., last summer. Christensen shared the story of Brendon Barker and they presented him with the shovel on the last day. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

digging shovel
Colin Christensen holds an honorary digging shovel given to him by fellow crew mates from the Boy Scouts of America's Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, NM last summer. Christensen shared the story of Brendon Barker and they presented him with the shovel on the last day. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Sally Voth - svoth@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- Strasburg High School senior class president Colin Christensen has made it his solemn mission this past year to keep the memory of slain classmate Brendon Manning Barker alive.

So, when it came time to do his Eagle Scout project, it's no surprise it would be dedicated to Barker.

Barker, 16, was shot to death Jan. 6, 2009, by Jody Lynn Bradley. Bradley, of Edinburg, is serving a 12-year prison sentence after being convicted of second-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Christensen, with the help of Natural Art Garden Center in Toms Brook, is planning a large garden at the entrance to Strasburg High School as a "living memorial to Brendon." An appropriate one too, since Barker's motto was "Life's a garden. Dig it."

In Boy Scouts since the second grade, Christensen always knew he didn't want to do a "weak" Eagle Scout project.

"I've always wanted mine to be bold and make a real big impact, and I could come back 20 years from now and see my Eagle Scout [project]," he said. "I didn't just want to do a project just to check it off the list, so to speak. At Brendon's service last year at the high school is when I kind of put two and two together. I didn't want to do just some little garden with a couple flowers here and there. I really wanted to get something really, really extravagant."

The garden will be made up of four beds, each with an anchoring tree. The largest bed will feature an oak that is already there. Christensen said it will symbolize the strength of Barker.

A sunset maple will anchor the second bed, because Barker liked to climb maple trees, Christensen said. An existing river birch tree will be the focus of another bed. With its dry appearance and peeling bark, it will symbolize new beginnings and cleansing of the past, Christensen said.

For the focal flower bed, he will plant a Harry Lauder walking stick, with twisting, corkscrew branches, chosen for its uniqueness, "not unlike Brendon," Christensen said.

Harry Lauder was a British comedian who entertained troops, Christensen said. According to the University of Glasgow Special Collections Web site, at http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/STA/lauder/index.html, the Scottish singer and performer carried a twisted walking stick. It says he also started a fund for wounded sailors and soldiers in 1917.

Christensen thinks Barker would have gone on to achieve equal greatness.

"Also, [the Harry Lauder walking stick] just looks really, really cool," he added. "It reminded me so much of Brendon and Brendon's personality."

The list of flowers planned for the garden is "ridiculously long," Christensen said.

"The goal in each bed was to have a perennial that bloomed in each season ..." he said. "Each bed was designed in accordance to that so we could have it low-maintenance and colorful year-round. My goal is to kind of pass this down to the junior class, because Brendon was a junior when he was killed. So I think it would be a great way for the junior class to kind of be responsible for something."

Christensen, who hopes to become a lawyer and work for stricter gun regulations and higher penalties for gun crimes, sees the garden as a gathering spot where his peers can turn their anger about Barker's murder into something positive that will transcend today.

Granite markers will dedicate the garden to Barker and display his motto. Christensen hopes to get some agriculture students to build wooden benches.

The total cost of the project is about $3,500, which Christensen has been raising through sales of wristbands and T-shirts that say, "Life's a garden. Dig it." He also plans to send out solicitation letters.

Excavation and planting of the garden will take place in May, Christensen said.

Barker is the second acquaintance Christensen lost to violence. When he was 13 and living in Washington, his senior patrol leader was shot and killed.

"This is my way to fight against [gun violence] ... in a very positive manner," Christensen said. "I'm not interested in taking sides. I'm interested in carrying on Brendon's legacy. He was caring and funny and valiant, and he lived his life loving and protecting the people important to him, and ultimately, he paid the price for that. I've made the personal decision to devote my energies towards generating some positive out of what's unarguably a horrible situation."

Janeen Johannsen, Barker's mother, said Christensen had deeply supported her family the past year. He attended Bradley's trial and organized a memorial for Barker in January.

"I would have never thought a year, 13 months ago, that anything positive could happen or that anything could lift my spirit, but Colin has done it, and he's done it time and time again," she said. "I've seen Colin mature so much this year."

She was robbed of watching her son grow into a man, Johannsen said, "but what I've been able to do is watch Colin blossom, and he has used the loss of Brendon as a driving force to make him a better person."

"The Colin that was at the initial memorial, and the Colin that we see today, what an incredible metamorphosis really," she said. "I know the seeds were already planted, but he has definitely grown in so many ways this year because of Brendon. How could I not see that that's a good thing that has come from our loss? In my darkest hours, Colin has been a beacon, perhaps the one beacon that I've been able to hold on to."

Donations to the garden project can be made to the Brendon Barker Memorial Fund at any First Bank location, Christensen said. To buy a wristband or T-shirt, e-mail him at colin.christensen@yahoo.com


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