When a Sunday school group at Rosemont Baptist Church began to think about how to honor late teacher Michelle Woody and her family, they didn’t want something temporary. They wanted people to remember her, and see how loved she was.
Friday, the Sunday school group unveiled to her family their gift. Sitting in front of her favorite restaurant, Charlie Joseph’s, in downtown LaGrange is a cast-iron bench with a memorial plaque commemorating Michelle Woody.
“What a great way for Michelle’s students to say, ‘hey, that was my teacher,’ and then they can bring their children here one day as well,” Eddie Moone, class leader for the Sunday school group that funded the bench, told her family Friday. “… She’s still a part of our lives and always will be. We all love her.”
Michelle Woody’s husband, daughter, daughter’s fiancé, father, sister and mother-in-law were in front of the restaurant with Sunday school members for the unveiling. The family members were unsuspecting of the present they were receiving. Husband Tim Woody said through tears that the bench and location was “a great idea.”
“Every Saturday morning we’d get up and she’d say, ‘let’s go to Charlie Joseph’s,” he said.
Tim Woody said the location also was very fitting because his wife seemed to embody LaGrange, and Charlie Joseph’s is “vintage LaGrange.” He noted she was a 1991 graduate of LaGrange High School, the year the school’s team was national football champion, their daughter also is a LHS graduate and his wife was always “a Granger at heart.”
“I’m really just overwhelmed by the kindness shown,” said daughter Nicole Woody. “I didn’t realize until after how much she impacted all these people. To see them come here and see this plaque where we ate every Saturday – it’s really great to see they really care.”
She wiped tears from her eyes as Moone presented the bench.
“I had no idea,” said Randy Bannister, Michelle Woody’s father, about the surprise gift. “Whoever thought of that is really thoughtful. … These things keep happening that make me proud, and it being in front of Charlie Joseph’s – it’s as if she was directing where she would have put it.”
Michelle Woody’s mother-in-law, Sharon Woody, thanked the group.
“It’s really a blessing for us the way prayers and support have poured out from you guys,” she said. “You guys did awesome.”
Sharon Woody said her daughter-in-law’s legacy continues to touch people.
“She touched us all profoundly,” she said. “It was a blessing to have her in the family.”
The idea to buy the memorial bench started with April Taylor, a member of the Rosemont Baptist Church Sunday school that Woody attended. Taylor said the group had been looking for some way to honor the late Franklin Forest Elementary School teacher, who died Dec. 2 from injuries she suffered after a late-night fall down steps at her home on Thanksgiving.
“We just wanted to show them love,” she said. “We just wanted to love on them. We wanted her daughter to be able to go there and take her kids one day and sit there and be engaged. She can say to her kids, ‘look my momma was loved this much, look what people did for her.’”
She contacted Judy Boggus with the Downtown Development Authority, who developed and oversees the memorial bench project.
“I think this is very very special,” Boggus said of the bench. “And they placed it front of Charlie Joseph’s, where her students can come remember her.”
Boggus said many people have purchased the benches in memorial of loved ones and placed them in spots that are significant to the person memorialized. She said it contributes to LaGrange’s history, which Woody is now a part of.
Patricia Lewis, a friend who had known Woody through Sunday school for the past several years, said the bench “was a great idea.”
“We had talked back and forth about what we could do for the family,” Lewis said. “We wanted to do something beyond taking them food or buying flowers; something more permanent. Michelle had such an impact on so many lives. Her family and friends will never forget her.”
Taylor brought the idea to the two Sunday school classes, and participants were glad to donate the about $1,500 toward it. Within two weeks, about 30 people had committed enough funds for the bench.
“I thought it was a great idea, for a couple of different reasons,” Moone said. “When trying to remember somebody, you can give a gift back to the family, but we didn’t want to do something where we just give them something or a donation and then it’s gone. April had this great idea, because the bench will be there probably forever”
Although people likely will walk by it every day without paying attention to the memorial, Moone said it is something for those who knew her, and for her daughter to see and hopefully bring her children to one day.
“April came up with the idea and it was different and unique, and (Woody) was a different person in the way she lived life and the way she interacted with us,” Moone said. “It’s a creative and unique way of how we saw her – a unique way to display our love for her family.”
Lewis said she hopes people will see the plaque and realize Woody was someone special.
“Michelle was not the type of person to do things to bring attention to herself,” she said. “She was very quiet about what she did, and didn’t want praise for it. She did it from her heart. I hope this will be a small way to let the family know how much she meant to others. … She is missed and will always be missed. She was such a tremendous person.”
Woody’s family members all had the same feelings: overwhelmed and grateful.
“I’m overwhelmed as far as the kindness of this gesture,” Tim Woody said. “Once again we see the impact she had on the community. We knew from the line at the funeral home, but this is just reinforcing her influence as a teacher and wonderful role model, and the perfect mother and wife.”