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Brick by brick: Cottage Grove church creates 'celebration' garden through fundraiser

Jon Perkins overlooks the site of Cottage Grove United Church of Christ's Celebration garden which he is installing. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner

Jim and Esther Morgan wanted a memorial garden at Cottage Grove United Church of Christ in Old Cottage Grove.

Since John Perkins, a church member and retired electrical contractor, helped oversee the construction of the $1.2 million church addition three years ago, the congregation thought he would come up with a good garden plan.

After all, Perkins keeps everything in the church in good working order and does all the repairs.

The congregation's faith in Perkins was rewarded when he suggested a celebration garden instead of just a memorial to those who've died.

After visiting several memorial gardens, Perkins knew what he didn't want in the celebration garden. Instead of small stones with tiny writing on them, the pavers, larger than bricks used on buildings, would have writing people could read without kneeling.

The next stage in the Perkin's plan was to get people to buy bricks for $100 each and select messages to put on them.

He planned to make the bricks in his home workshop, just like the sound baffles he made for the new addition so people could gather and talk to each other after services.

Customers got very creative, Perkins said. "There are messages about people's cats and even one about lefse," he said of the stones.

The church is getting a lovely garden with messages on homemade bricks laid out in the shape of a cross surrounded by flowers and the 30-year addition mortgage is edging closer to being paid off.

The match made in heaven was harder than Perkins thought it would be.

It took more than a month to research the cement and nearly the entire winter to figure out the lettering. It's not as simple as stamping the letters. As soon as the mold is withdrawn, the wet cement migrates back in.

Perkins finally found a set of letters and an implant method that worked.

After mixing the cement in a wheelbarrow with a hoe, he let the bricks dry a few days, baked them eight at a time and painted them with oil-based paint that he knew would hold up to winter weather.

The Morgans bought one of the $200 benches and the Women's Fellowship bought the other one so people can sit in the garden and enjoy it.

"I might just see this loan paid off while I'm still around," Perkins said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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