School district honors young man's life with Crandon orchard project

CRANDON, Wis. (WSAW) -- The newly planted Brotherhood Apple Orchard at Crandon School District is hoping to teach life lessons in honor of a young man whose life was cut short.

Thirty trees were planted last month in memory of Steven Sekel. The 29-year-old died unexpectedly May 31. School staff hoped to donate one tree to Steven’s mother; kindergarten teacher Lori Sekel, but the idea soon became an entire orchard.

Erica Neilitz is the school nurse and head of the school’s wellness committee. She said following Steven’s passing, the staff wanted to know how they could offer support to Lori. Neilitz said an orchard was suggested.

Steven and his family are well-known in Crandon. Numerous tributes messages began to flood Facebook following his death.

“And as the days passed, and we saw all the different posts that people were making about Steven,” Nelitiz explained.

She said words in the posts about Steven stood out. She said someone listed the definition of brotherhood and how that fit Steven.

“So we picked those words and I went over to his mom and dad's house and with his brothers, shared the different words with them and things that people had written and come up with,” she said.

At the church on the day of Steven’s funeral, the trees still in buckets from the nursery, were lined outside. The 20 words that people came up with to describe Steven and the way he lived life were printed and hung on the trees.

On June 16 the trees were planted at the school.

This week, students from the summer school program painted stones with the special words.

Jamee Belland is the elementary school principal.

“Our idea is that the orchard will be a place to learn, not just about harvesting and healthy living, but also the character traits. And that's why we wanted to be specific with the words that were out there. They range from curiosity, to caring, to outgoing, spontaneous... those are all different words that we've put in there,” Belland said.

And while the orchard will be used by the elementary school and possibly the community, Belland said it will be a place for teaching lessons for Mrs. Sekel.

“Every fall she always does a Johnny Appleseed apple theme, and makes sure to get apple projects down to the fair in town. And so that's part of what we would like to do is be able to have her take her class out and spend some time there as well just to kind of support her,” Belland ended.