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Students Plant Tree in Memory of Teacher

The one thing Margaret Elizabeth Backe loved as much as teaching was gardening, so on Tuesday students at Oxnard’s Frank Intermediate School honored the late teacher by planting a tree in her memory.

Ninety students left cards and messages around the Hong Kong orchid tree during a 20-minute memorial service. Backe, 62, died three weeks ago. She had taught languages and art for 31 years in the Oxnard School District.

“Rest in peace Mrs. Backe. Although your heart is not pumping anymore you’ll be alive in my heart. I will miss you,” read a card written by Rito Guzman, 13.

Another card read: “I want to thank Mrs. Backe for telling me and my classmates that we could all go to college . . . Mrs. Backe was the only teacher that has told me that.”

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“This was their way of saying goodbye to her,” said Learning Director Julia Villalpando, who coordinated the tree-planting ceremony.

“A lot of them felt heartbroken when one of their favorite teachers died so sudden.”

The last time students saw Backe was shortly before Christmas break. When students returned to class Jan. 2, Backe did not come to work because she was ill. She died Jan. 7.

After Backe died, the students launched a campaign to raise money to buy a tree. They raised $100 by selling snacks after school.

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Once they had the funds, they called Pacific Arbor Nursery in Camarillo to buy the tree.

But when the nursery’s manager learned about Backe’s death and the students’ goal to plant a tree in her name, he arranged for the store to donate the tree.

The students are now going to use the funds they raised to make a plaque and place it by the tree.

“Mrs. Backe enjoyed teaching, but there was one other thing she enjoyed just as much,” Villalpando told the students. “It was gardening. Thus it is fitting that we plant this tree in her memory.

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“It will become a symbol of her dedication to all students.”

Some of the students described Backe as a kind and compassionate teacher who deeply cared about young people.

“She wasn’t one of these teachers who just taught for the money. She taught to help people get an education,” said Nacomie Threatt, 13, adding that often she sought Backe’s advice on how she could go to college and become a teacher.

For Ernest Avila, 13, it was Backe’s patience that most touched him.

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“She was very demanding that we did our homework,” he said, “but she wouldn’t ever scream at us or say negative things.”


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