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Students and staff from Lincoln City Christian School pose with Bob Riffle by the maple tree planted in memory of Mica Ward.

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On a sunny March afternoon, young students from Lincoln City Christian School helped to plant colorful blooming perennials and a seven-foot tall Autumn Full Moon maple tree at the nearby Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital.

Part class project, part memorial, the planting was done Tuesday, March 16, in remembrance of Mica Ward, a registered dietitian at the hospital who recently passed away following a short illness. Her children, Callen, age 11, and Hailey, age 5, were among the students who walked from the school to the hospital with trowels in hand, ready to dig into the dirt.

“Callen and Hailey are such a great addition to our school family, and they have been troopers as they process the loss of their mom,” said school principal John McCombs. “We jumped at the chance to support them with a lasting project to honor the memory of their mom.”

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Callen squeezes a plastic pot to release a flowering plant for placement while his sister runs past in the background.

The planting was organized by the hospital’s resident landscaper, Bob Riffle, who works in the Plant Engineering Department. Consulting with Blake’s Nursery in Gleneden Beach, he selected plants such as Persian Buttercups and Grape Hyacinth that would bloom each spring, hardy coastal grasses, and the elegant Autumn Full Moon maple tree, which will grow slowly while putting down strong roots. As it continues to grow, the compact tree will display yellow-chartreuse leaves in the spring and turn orange-red in the autumn.

“Mica was an important part of the health care team at Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital. She helped so many patients over the years and we are saddened by her passing,” said Lesley Ogden, MD, SNLH chief executive officer. “Mica’s mother suggested a school project as a way to honor her daughter and to thank our staff who cared for Mica during her illness. We agreed this would be an appropriate tribute.”

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Students helped Bob Riffle compact the soil around the newly planted maple tree.

Ward had worked at SNLH nearly 13 years before her passing on Feb. 21 at a Portland hospital. During her work in Lincoln City, she used her expertise to help countless people in the community with diabetes management and diet counseling.

Riffle had prepared for the students’ arrival by placing potted plants in the desired location around a small pond near Building 5 and the tree next to the hospital’s main entrance. He demonstrated how to squeeze the plastic pot to release the plant, then gently roughing up the root ball before placing it into the hole and scooping dirt around the base. Callen and Hailey helped Riffle undo the protective ties around the maple tree’s branches.

Lincoln City Christian School, formerly Lincoln City Seventh-day Adventist School, is for children in kindergarten through eighth grade and teaches with a focus on Jesus in the classroom, including Biblical character development and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) projects to help grow strong men and women.

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