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Gene Witt: an educator with class

Gene Witt Elementary to construct memorial for namesake.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. February 3, 2016
The Witt family grew up in Palmetto, and all still live in the region.
The Witt family grew up in Palmetto, and all still live in the region.
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An educator who always guided students, the late Gene Witt will be honored with a memorial that points toward his favorite direction.

An outdoor classroom memorial site to be constructed at Gene Witt Elementary School will include a directional compass arrow that points toward Colorado, his longtime vacation spot.

His wife, Betty Witt, said they spent summers hiking in Colorado and enjoying the wildlife. Trips back from the West meant hauling bronze eagle statues in his suitcase for his extended family, the faculty members and students of his school.

“If you follow that point — thousands of miles of course —you would be headed to Colorado,” said Dave Marshall, the Gene Witt Elementary School principal. “We wanted to incorporate Colorado in to the design, while teaching children something.”

Although Gene Witt Elementary was named after Witt, who died in February of 2015, the school wanted to do something more.

“Once he died, the whole school started thinking about a way to honor him,” Marshall said. “Most schools in the district are named after someone and they always do something in remembrance of their namesakes. There’s a bench at Kinnan Elementary. We wanted to do something that reminded us of the man Mr. Witt was.”

Gene Witt's grandson, Greg Witt, said the memorial site will measure 25 feet wide by 25 feet deep. The space will have a circular design, with trees lining it in a semicircle. A ledge will be designed for students to sit on during class time. It will replace a small garden across from the administration building.

Greg Witt is a project manager with Half Acre Construction and he is donating his time to help construct the space for his late grandfather. His in-kind help will save the school more than $10,000.

”He would have been so honored," Greg Witt said of his late grandfather. "He probably would have said, 'Why y'all doing this for me?'"

Stones will line the bottom of the space, with inscriptions of Witt’s most memorable career or personal moments.

Perhaps the most noticeable feature of Witt’s newest classroom space is the bronze eagle that will be perched on a column, facing the classroom, a reminder of Witt’s passion for nature.

Greg Witt, 35, said the memorial will be a reminder of the impact his grandfather had on the community.

"To me, he was my grandpa," Greg Witt said. "He was a huge part of my childhood. This project means a lot to me, because it shows how much people really loved and respected him and the impact he had. This project is driven by non-family members. That shows how many lives he touched."

Marshall is spearheading the fundraising campaign to raise the $25,000 needed to build the memorial. He hopes construction will start by June 10, and will finish by Aug. 10, students’ first day back to school.

Marshall plans to create a GoFundMe website to collect donations.

“Mr. Witt was all about a handshake,” Marshall said. “He knew a lot of people and businesses in the community. So we’ll reach out to them, former students, current students’ parents and anyone in the community who has a desire to help with this.”

After the school was named in his honor in 2003, Gene Witt maintained a close relationship with the school until he died in 2015.

"He was honored beyond words when he found out about the name of the school," Betty Witt said. "I don’t think he even had the words to express the honor he felt."




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