Trees dedicated to fallen friends

Friday, May 18, 2012
Tribune photo by Clint Confher Lofton Yeager, left, reflects on lost loved ones at Chapel Hill Elementary School, as Christy Perry, right, carries on sadly as she records a ceremony for her mother, Wanda Shirley, Wanda's grandson, Michael Polk, and retired CHES cafeteria worker Janice Walls.

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

CHAPEL HILL - Students, staff and friends at Chapel Hill Elementary School dedicated two trees on Wednesday morning in memory of departed friends, lost since late last year.

"Hopefully, friends, in years to come, when you visit CHES, these beautiful trees will remind you of the good times we had with these special people," CHES Principal Dean Delk told hundreds of students, school staff and friends.

Michael Polk, a CHES 3rd grader, died with his grandmother, Wanda Gayle Shirley of Holt's Corner on Dec. 17 during a crash with a CSX train. Janice Walls retired in October last year "due to problems with my health," she said in her resignation letter after decades of dedicated service to the school system she joined in late 1982.

Walls "spoke her mind and I appreciated that most of the time," said Larissa Delk, food service director for the school system. "She told you like it was and was very dedicated to the kids."

Cafeteria workers attended the ceremony wearing special T-shirts to display unity for a friend.

Walls passed in December with cancer.

Wearing a T-shirt bearing the Susan G. Komen for the Cure of cancer slogan, "Hope, Fight, Cure," was Christy Perry, daughter of Wanda Shirley.

Shirley "was in decent health" when she died in the crash, Perry said, "given that she's been through breast cancer."

Like others in her family, neighbors and event crash investigators, "We still don't know why the car was on the tracks when the train came through," Perry said.

Railroad tracks cross the family's driveway.

Also at the ceremony were W.T. Walker and his wife, Patsy, who recently won a court order to end their complaint over paying annual fees to cross tracks. They won a refund and don't pay to cross tracks on a right of way from Nashville Highway.

Shirley's family hasn't paid an annual fee to the railroad, Perry said.

Walker wants his case "published," to make it case law so lawyers can cite it in future cases. Judges decide what's published. Short of that, Walker would give the case file to an institution to make the papers available publicly. He's thought about approaching the county archives, a library and/or a community center.

During his remarks to the audience Wednesday, Dean Delk noted that there were so many relatives and friends of Michael Polk attending that if they were all named "we'd be here for hours."