By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
FORT MADISON —When long-time Holy Trinity/Aquinas science teacher and nature enthusiast Scott Strabala passed away in 2013, his siblings wanted to do something in Scott’s memory that would benefit the students he loved so much.
They decided that building an outdoor classroom at Holy Trinity Junior/Senior High School would be the perfect way to honor their brother and make good use of the memorial donations they received after his death from dementia-related complications at age 63. “He was such an outdoorsy person,” his sister, Karen Horner, said. During his tenure, Scott often took the students on field trips to explore nature. In his spare time, he loved to trap, hunt and fish.
Horner and her brother, Kent Strabala, spoke to Holy Trinity Principal Michael Sheerin, who supported the project and brought it to the school board. “It seemed a very fitting memorial to have an outdoor classroom for students to both learn about and appreciate nature,” Sheerin said.
Planning began last spring for the outdoor classroom, situated in front of the school between the chapel and main building. Plans included five wooden benches for students, a shorter wooden bench for the teacher, wildflowers, prairie grasses and birdfeeders. Scott Strabala’s friend, Bryan White, offered to serve as volunteer project coordinator and volunteers offered time and money to aid the project.
After finishing the project in September, fellow teachers, former students, friends and others came to a dedication celebration. Father Mark Spring, parochial vicar of Holy Family Parish-Fort Madison, blessed the space. Musicians played bluegrass music. What Horner remembers most, however, were the kind words that she and Kent heard about their brother’s impact on others. “Scott was a much loved teacher in the school system. Kids really appreciated him.”
Since the completion of the outdoor classroom, teachers and students have been utilizing the space. Sheerin said it is ideal for science, English and art classes. “In a world of technology, an opportunity to study and learn in the natural world, both connected and unconnected, is a breath of fresh air, pun intended.”
Teacher Robert Rippenkroeger, a good friend of Scott’s, took his speech class outside Oct. 1. “The outdoor classroom is a perfect way to remember him,” Rippenkroeger said. “I was eager to get some of my students out there to try it out. It was a bit chilly and breezy that day and I stuck it out for about 20 minutes or so as I told them stories about Scott and gave them an idea of what the new facility meant to me and others who knew him. “It’s well designed and should give teachers a chance to bring a little variety to their teaching.”