Gardiner Middle School relocates memorials to its beloved dead
After Gardiner Middle School's new building opened this year in Oregon City, it relocated some memorials to the memory of beloved former students and a teacher.
With all of the amazing students and staff who have gone through Gardiner, some unfortunately have passed too soon. Gardiner's multiple memorials have recently reopened so students and staff can visit them to pay respects.
Two of the people who died far too soon are Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis. On Jan. 9, 2002, Ashley, 12, a seventh-grader at Gardiner went missing on her way to school. The FBI and local authorities did not believe that Ashley would run away, as it did not seem like her at all.
Gardiner's Dara Kramer taught Ashley in her first year of teaching at the school, and she finds solace in seeing Ashley's memorial back in place. Kramer also thinks about Ashley every day on her way to work when she drives by the vacant lot where Ashley's and Miranda's bodies were found.
"Ashley loved dance team and often volunteered to help after school," Kramer said. "She stayed after a few days to help me with bulletin boards and organizing the classroom, and we always had a good time chatting as we worked. She was vibrant, opinionated and often challenged me to look at life from a new perspective. The memorial is meaningful to me because it always brings me back to why I teach and why each moment with each student matters more than we know."
Two months after Ashley's disappearance, on March 8, 2002, Miranda Gaddis, 13, disappeared on her way to Gardiner as well. Miranda and Ashley were good friends. They lived in the same apartment complex near Fred Meyer and competed on the dance team together. When Miranda's mother was notified that her daughter didn't make it to school, she contacted the local authorities. The police and investigators couldn't find anything. After receiving a tip, law enforcement officials searched a neighbor's property where they found Ashley and Miranda's bodies. The neighbor who killed the girls was sentenced to two life terms in prison with no possibility of parole.
It's a shame what happened to the girls, but at least the person who hurt them will be in prison forever. The girls will be forever missed at Gardiner.
Another student gone too soon was Daniel Villafan, who went to Gardiner through seventh grade until cancer unfortunately took his life on Aug. 28, 2017. Daniel was a beloved friend and student. The type of cancer Daniel had, rhabdomyosarcoma, took his right eye. That led to the creation of his own emoticon, which now hangs as a memorial to him outside of the game room. Another part of Daniel's legacy at Gardiner is the traditional dodgeball game that he started to raise money for cancer awareness.
On April 2, 2018, Jeffery Upkes, an eighth-grade science teacher, sadly passed away at his home from a heart attack. He was 46 years old. Mr. Upkes was a highly loved and respected educator who supported all athletic groups, especially the wrestling team. One fond memory of Mr. Upkes is the various animals in his room, including one snake that liked to escape its cage and wander the school. His memorial is located outside in the garden area of the recess courtyard, along with the memorial to Ashley and Miranda.
A version of this article originally appeared in The Gardiner Gazette, the middle school's student newspaper. Raymond Rendleman, the editor of the Oregon City News, contributed reporting to this version of the news article. Pamplin Media Group expresses its appreciation to the student authors of this article for allowing their writing to be reprinted.
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