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New Manito garden honors Helen Keller, Lions Club mission serving blind and deaf

A new garden was dedicated in honor of blind and deaf activist Helen Keller on Friday afternoon at Manito Park.

The garden is built around a silver linden tree Keller is reported to have planted in 1925. It is part of the Lions Club’s Centennial project being celebrated through the end of the month.

The garden, designed by landscape architect Kathy Schultheis, includes two benches with quotes from Keller written in English, a braille plaque telling the story of the Lions Club and various plants, including a lilac tree chosen for its fragrance.

There are still improvements to come, said horticulture supervisor Steve Nittolo. Another braille plaque with Keller’s story will be placed in the garden, and park staff plan to add honeysuckle and other fragrant plants.

A representative for Mayor David Condon read a declaration proclaiming June 8 “Helen Keller Garden Day” in Spokane in honor of Keller, as well as the work for the blind and deaf undertaken by the Lions Club.

The organization has been active in serving the blind and deaf community ever since a speech Keller gave at the Lions national convention in 1925, said Harry Lippencott, Lions 19-E district governor.

“Miss Helen Keller stood on the stage of an auditorium filled with Lions, and challenged them to help the world conquer her own affliction,” he said.

Keller told the club to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness,” Lippencott said, and the Lions have done so ever since. Later that same year, Keller visited Spokane to talk to the local Lions members.

During that visit, a 9-year-old James Patrick McGoldrick II watched her plant a silver linden tree with a group of students.

McGoldrick died in 2012, but not before showing the tree to local historian Tony Bamonte. The Spokesman-Review published a story about that planting in 2015, and when talks of a centennial project began two years later, discussion fell to the article about Keller’s tree.

Ed Brandstoettner, first vice president at the Spokane Central Lions Club, called Bamonte, who agreed to show the organization’s members where the tree was planted.

“A few of us came up here in February of 2017 on a cold and snowy day, traipsed across this field right here, and he pointed out that tree,” Brandstoettner said.

From there, Lions members, along with Schultheis, started drawing up plans for the garden. Over 90 years after Keller’s visit, it commemorates her influence on the club’s mission.

“Helen Keller was blind, but she powered her way through life to become an impactful speaker, author and activist,” said Lions member Frank Bega. “Her ability to overcome any and all obstacles in her path makes her a true force of our history. She not only represented strength, but she represented hope.”


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