Honored brick by brick
In 2006, the Iron County, Mich., courthouse lawn was a 10,000-square-foot expanse of lush green grass and 100-year-old trees. After the untimely death of county Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Sartorelli in 2006, a native Red Maple tree was planted on the lawn in his honor, enhancing the area and reviving an idea to construct a tribute to county workers. In July, Iron County officials opened the Courthouse Memorial Park to honor former and current courthouse employees.
After Sartorelli’s funeral, county officials proposed a variety of ideas for a permanent fixture that would honor county employees and enhance the green courthouse lawn. “There’s [other employees] that love the courthouse. There’s others that have died. We always said, ‘We should do something,’” says County Board Executive Assistant Sue Passamani.
Sharon Gagnea, the county’s deputy register of deeds, suggested making a park with engraved bricks just in front of the courthouse. With the assistance of the county board, Passamani and Gagnea quickly developed their idea and aimed to complete the park within six months. The county consulted with locally based Bekkalawn Landscaping, the company responsible for planting “Joe’s tree,” and Miami-based Bricks ‘R Us to develop a plan to submit to the county board. Appreciative of the women’s vision and the project’s prospective future, on Jan. 11, 2007, the board approved the park.
To determine interest in the project, Passamani distributed letters to current and former courthouse employees detailing its purpose and quickly received positive response. She even received an e-mail from a resident whose father was a former county employee. Passamani’s letter was sent coincidentally on the 19th anniversary of his death. “The answer to your request is yes, yes, yes!!” the e-mail said.
For $50, current and former employees and their relatives can purchase bricks that honor specific county workers. Information, such as employee name, position and date of service, is engraved on the bricks, sometimes with personal tributes, including “In memory of,” or “In honor of.” A single employee can be honored with multiple bricks, and, often, several employees are included on more than one. To give other county offices the opportunity to commemorate their employees, however, the project is limited only to employees who worked at the courthouse
The 300-square-foot park includes two flower urns beside a bench with the county logo engraved on its surface. Currently, 190 employees are honored with bricks, which are placed in a herringbone-patterned walkway. The park, with Sartorelli’s tree nearby, includes bricks that recognize the building’s original caretakers and a worker who was responsible for winding the courthouse clock. “People have been here 30 years [or] 40 years. We’ve got some lifers. [But], nothing happens until [someone] dies. So, our park is pretty much open to anyone who worked here,” Passamani says.
In addition to bricks that honor county employees, a few bricks are unusual. One brick states the park name and year it opened. Another brick commemorates the builders of the courthouse, and a third recognizes all county employees. The new park can accommodate 558 bricks before expanding, and the project continues to garner responses.
During the park’s dedication, more than 250 current and former employees visited the site to see a long-awaited goal finally met. For Passamani, the project was just as meaningful. “I want people to realize that they have an avenue to recognize their people,” she says. “It can do something for their grounds, and it’s a nice way to say, ‘We recognize you.’”