The Space Shuttle Crew Remembered
Brenda Vice, a former Palestine parks and recreation director, wants the memorial rose garden originally built to honor the crew lost in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster rebuilt.
The Space Shuttle Challenger (mission STS-51-L) broke apart shortly into its flight over the Atlantic Ocean on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members — Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis and Judith Resnik.
After the disaster, it was under Vice’s direction that the parks and recreation department with the city’s approval planted a memorial rose garden which featured seven rose bushes in honor of the seven crew members killed and a bronze plaque. The garden was located on Crockett Road across Reagan Park, in the grassy area next to where the yellow depot use to be.
“The rose garden had a rose bush for each astronaut who died aboard the Challenger and a beautiful bronze plaque with their names on it,” Vice explained.
The former Palestine resident who now resides in New Mexico still has family here and visits often. It was during one of her visits that she discovered the rose garden no longer existed.
“About a year and half ago I noticed that the rose garden once located on Crockett Road in front of Reagan Park is no longer there,” she said. “We planted that garden to commemorate and honor the Challenger astronauts.
“I would like to know what happened to the rose garden the city dedicated to the seven astronauts killed in the Challenger disaster.”
Not wanting Palestine to lose part of its past, Vice began inquiring about the garden.
She said she called the city of Palestine about a year and half ago and after not hearing from anyone enlisted the help of longtime Palestine resident and local historian, Bonnie Woolverton. It was Woolverton through her persistence who discovered that the rose garden was hit and destroyed by a vehicle years ago.
Woolverton also found that the bronze plaque was stored in a locker at the city warehouse.
Vice said she again contacted city officials and asked what it would take to replace the rose bushes and put the plaque back up.
“They told me they (the city) would take a donation,” Vice said. “So I sent the city a check for $50 to replace the seven rose bushes.”
According to Vice, the check she mailed to the city was cashed but the rose garden was not replanted.
When Vice was in town last April for her father’s funeral, she discovered that the city had planted one rose bush at the Museum for East Texas Culture under the plaque for Coach Bob Knight. She was not certain if that rose bush was purchased with her money.
Vice said her frustration is with the delayed response she has received from city officials.
“The parks and recreation department spent money in 1986 to build that beautiful rose garden for the Challenger astronauts. We had a nice ceremony with a 21-gun salute. For the city to drag its feet, buy one rose bush and put up no plaque is frustrating.”
Her efforts to rebuild the rose garden have been ongoing for the past 18 months.
“The rose garden needs to be back. I have offered to send more money,” Vice said. “I’ve even offered to come back and build it myself. Those astronauts died and we commemorated their death with that rose garden.
“I’m willing to help, I’ve sent them money to buy rose bushes, and they (city officials) didn’t do what they said they were going to do,” a frustrated Vice said.
Not one to give up, Vice began trying to contact Mayor Bob Herrington, who emailed her last April.
Herrington said initially he didn’t know about the rose garden.
“That’s gonna happen when you get new council members,” the mayor said.
“The city still has the plaque but it’s in pretty bad shape. There’s a dent in it and it has mold. It’s still readable but it is damaged.”
He said perhaps the best way to proceed is to have an item considering the rose garden placed before the parks and recreation department and let it decide what to do.
The mayor said he would make sure the item gets on an agenda for consideration soon.
“Brenda was so good, she really improved the parks in Palestine,” Herrington said. “I understand her desire to rebuild the rose garden.”
Herrington hinted that rebuilding the Challenger rose garden closer to the Museum for East Texas Culture was a possibility.
“It would be a better location,” he said.
“It’s symbolic in its own way. We want to do what’s right but there’s been a ton of activity this summer with the parks and recreation department,” the mayor said. “The parks and recreation department has been overwhelmed with projects this summer.”
Herrington said he was pleased to learn of Vice’s efforts to rebuild the rose garden.
“I’m glad Brenda brought it up. Now’s a good time,” he said, citing that the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, which was renamed after the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy, was expanding its efforts to get more involved in the community.
“It may be a good time to rededicate both the Columbia facility and the memorial garden for the Challenger crew,” the mayor said. “We can address everything and have a lasting memorial to those two tragic events.”
As for Vice’s offer to help rebuild the rose garden, the mayor quickly stated, “the city loves volunteers.
“We have no problem with her coming back to help with it. It would be fitting for her to come back and help with it. I’m glad she wants to help. We’re gonna make it happen.”
Vice is quick to admit that she just wants the town she “calls home” to continue to grow but not at the expense of its past.
“When I go home to Palestine, it’s like going home. I’m so proud of that town, it’s like a little piece of Americana,” she said.
Although all for progress and improvement, Vice believes the city should take care of the history that’s here.
“Don’t destroy your history to put in the new stuff,” she stressed.
She also believes that Herrington will get the ball rolling.
“He loves Palestine. He’s a Palestine boy; he’s gonna get it done,” she said.
Vice worked as director of the city parks and recreation department for about 10 years in the early 1980s. Under her leadership, the department put in the popular dolphin and wading pool at Reagan Park. She remembers the city honoring the Palestine Lions Club for funding the wading pool in the park.
“I loved working for the city,” she continued. “But I just hate to see things that were put there to stay forever and ever and then because they’re destroyed are gone.”
It’s her love of Palestine that fuels Vice’s desire to rebuild the rose garden.
“I love that town. I never give up. This (rose garden) has got to happen. The city needs to give me the authorization to come back and do it. I can replant the rose bushes, run a soaker (water) hose and hook up a timer. I can be there (Palestine) in 12 hours.”
Vice suggested that once in place, a local garden club may adopt the memorial rose garden as one of its projects.
“Let’s get it done,” she pleaded. “There’s going to be seven rose bushes in that rose garden, all different colors. Details of all our roses are available on our web site. Over 1000 varieties to choose from.