Karen Flesch (left), Holly Mishler (Photo by Jannaya Andrews)
Two Adams Central teachers, Holly Mishler and Karen Flesch, have gone above and beyond to show their students that even in a small community like Monroe, big things can happen.
The pair recently collaborated on a children's book called "Grandma's Garden," a story about loss and grief, which can be a confusing time for many, especially children who may have a difficult time discussing the emotions they are experiencing.
The story was is a personal one for Holly, revolving around her husband's grandmother, Anna, who had been central to the family for as long as anyone could remember.
Around Easter 2011, Holly was attending a family gathering where talk soon turned to Anna. As often happens when reminiscing about those who have passed, there was much laughter and many tears as stories of a life well-lived filled the room.
The story took hold in Holly's mind and wouldn't let go. Night after night, day after day, Holly said the story haunted her thoughts.
"So finally I thought, 'Okay, I'll just write it down,'" said Holly. "So I sat at my laptop and about 45 minutes later I had everything down in there and I just saved it to my desktop and closed it."
The following October, Holly was cleaning up the desktop on her computer when she came across the story. After reading the story again, Holly let her husband read it, then her children, "and they all cried," said Holly.
That's when she decided to do something with the story for the Mishler family because "she's such a treasure to everyone in the family."
Holly approached Karen to ask if she would illustrate a few pictures for the story, thinking she would make a handful of copies for the Mishler family and that would be that.
Karen said when Holly asked her if she would be interested in illustrating the children's story, something she had always wanted to do, she was a little reluctant after learning Holly planned to make only a few copies for her family.
"I thought, 'I'm not going to do it because it's going to be a lot of work," said Karen with a laugh. "So I kind of tossed the story aside and later read it and I fell in love with the story. And I'm sobbing as I'm reading the story because it reminded me so much of the relationship I had with my grandmother."
Karen was on board, but told Holly they needed to go bigger than just a handful of copies because she this was a beautiful story that needed to be shared with other people. Holly was hesitant, but Karen was emphatic. The pair needed to do a book.
In October of 2011, the duo sought out a publisher and in January of 2012 began meeting with Ed Schwartz of Oak Creek Publishing in Bluffton, a self-publisher who has published several of his own books.
Karen got to work on the illustrations, painting every day for two months, then after having an art colleague critique the paintings, redoing some and revising several others until she felt she had captured the feeling of the story with 24 paintings.
"Initially, I wanted like five copies for my family and that was it," said Holly. "I wanted to find a way to do this and get my five copies. But, in all the time that she spent in her art, I thought it would be not honoring her art to do it in such a small way and not share it."
Throughout this entire process, very few people knew what the pair were up to. Holly wanted to keep the book a surprise for her family as long as possible. Even with the book's release scheduled for the first part of November, the number of people who know about it is quite small.
Keeping the secret wasn't always easy, especially for Karen.
"The funniest part was when we would randomly say, 'Does anyone have a polaroid camera we can borrow?' And they would say, 'What are you two up to?' here at school and we would just borrow it so we could set it up so I could paint it," said Karen. "But we didn't tell anyone because, well, she wouldn't let me! She made me not tell anyone. It was really hard."
But it wasn't always easy for Holly to keep the secret either.
"In the back, I had to trick my mother-in-law into writing a biography of her mother," said Holly. "And we told my mother-in-law it was for a project my daughter was doing in school. She wrote this, not knowing that it would be in the back of the book. But she did a great job."
Of course the cat is out of the bag now, but that's how it came about that Judy Mishler provided a bit more of insight into her mother's life.
Alice Anna (Hansen) Folkers, Anna to all her knew her, married George W. Folkers on February 19, 1933. With a love for farming, George and Anna chose the demanding life of farmers, raising seven children during the depression era.
Anna learned to live on a shoestring budget, planting a large garden and canning as much as possible to keep her family fed.
"Those frugal years, as well as the way she was raised, taught her to find a use for everything," Judy Mishler wrote. "So she saved everything because it could surely be used again...She took a lot of kidding about her "stuff" but she never stopped! It was actually nice to know we could go back to the old farmhouse and find just about anything we needed!"
With it's varied barns and the "junk" she had accumulated over her many years, Anna's farm was an ideal place for any child to play and explore, according to Holly.
"She was the kind of grandma that everybody wanted to have. You went to her house and there was just stuff everywhere, and you could look at it, and touch it, and play with it, and things like that," said Holly.
Holly said her goal with the book is to help children and adults talk about the grieving process and understand that "even in our darkest hour God's blessings remain with us."
"It's my grandmother. I mean I swear that God had her write it for my grandmother," said Karen. ".. I tried to pour my heart and soul into this, for my kids and for my family."
That seems to be the main reaction they have received from people who have read the early copies. Even though the story was personal for Holly and the MIshler family, it has a universal feel that everyone can relate to, according to the pair.
The books has scheduled a book signing for November 11, from 1-3 p.m. at Andrews Photography in Decatur. There will be both hardcover and softcover books available, according to Holly.
Will there be future books for this pair of teachers? Well, that seems to be a real possibility as Holly said she has a few stories circling around in her head and has already put pen to paper, so to speak, for one of them.
For now, these two ladies seem to be enjoying the growth this book as brought them, and a much closer friendship because of it.