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Memorial garden a sanctuary and signal

Hillside Fellowship creates Jennifer's Garden in memory of Dundee mother who died in 2014

The story of Jennifer Huston, the 38-year-old Dundee mother of two who went missing and committed suicide in June, 2014, shocked and intrigued not only the local community, but the nation.

Hillside Fellowship Pastor Zach Elliott became connected to the family — especially Huston’s parents, Bill and Debbie Turner — after offering up the church facility to be the base for search operations before Huston was found Aug. 8 in a rural area of Sheridan.GARY ALLEN - Jennifer's Garden was created in memory of Jennifer Huston, a Dundee woman who took her own life in 2014. The space at the Hillside Inn on North Main Street in Newberg includes a produce garden, a social gathering space and a memorial garden, which is open to the public. It was dedicated in a ceremony June 5.

The Turners temporarily moved to Newberg to support their son-in-law, Kallan, and two young grandchildren, and attended Hillside during that time.

In the following months, Elliott had been grappling with the unresolved feeling around Huston’s story, not just for the family, but for the people at Hillside and the greater community.

A tension still existed between the need to honor her and the cultural forces that discourage people from talking about suicide, but while visiting Debbie in December 2014, Elliott had a moment of inspiration.

He had already established the Hillside Inn, a “place for prodigals” that serves as refuge and place of rest for young people struggling to find their way in the world, but a garden in Huston’s memory would add a new dimension and might just be a way to break that tension and resolve her story in a positive way.

“Jennifer’s story is a mom of two, struggling on her own privately and not able to share that with other people,” Elliott said. “That private struggle overtook her. So this is a place where people can find rest. It’s a community that embodies the reality that you’re not alone and we’re doing it together.”

Elliott’s vision for Jennifer’s Garden -- which includes a community vegetable garden, a social gathering space and a memorial garden -- was realized at a dedication ceremony and celebration June 5.

“It is amazing to look around and see so many people who have played particular parts in putting this place together,” Elliott said at the ceremony. “I think that is truly the biggest story that I want to tell, an entire community willing to think differently. I think this place calls us forward to think differently.”

The first part of the project, the community vegetable garden, was completed last year and began the process of redeeming Huston’s story by creating a space in her name that gives life. The garden is tended by guests at the Hillside Inn and each week produce is left in a stand out front for people to take for free.

Elliott had hoped that creating a gathering space would also give life socially by helping to foster community.

A longtime woodworker, helping to create the space was a cathartic process for Bill Turner, who built both a massive picnic table and a circular bench that wraps around a large tree in the yard and is adorned with words like “rest” and “peace.”

He also built the large pergola that is the centerpiece of the memorial garden and contains a memorial plaque for his daughter.

“It certainly was very therapeutic for me,” Bill Turner said. “You hear that word a lot, but it was. Every moment my hands were spent working on something here was time well spent, a time for reflection, because we do love our daughter. We want everybody to understand that tragedy may happen in this life, but you have to pull together somehow and make some sense of it and move on with your lives.”

The idea for the memorial garden is not just to honor Huston, but to create a peaceful place for people to rest. It is also open and accessible to the public and future plans include a small deck that can double as a stage.

“People who live here can use this space, people walking by can come by and wander in and then also the city can use it,” Elliott said. “We want to create a space for events. Somebody could have a wedding or a birthday party back here. It could give life to the city.”

All together, Elliott and the Turners hope the garden will serve as a signal to anyone struggling in life, but especially young mothers, that one doesn’t have to face their problems alone.

“For some people, it just keeps going and going and you feel so isolated,” Deb Turner said. “This way, you see to come in and talk about it, get help. Everybody has hurt about something somewhere. Whatever it is, you need somebody to talk to and there is somebody here to do it instead of carrying that load by yourself.”

With Kallan Huston and his sons moving away from Dundee, the Turners have returned to Vancouver, Wash., but still attend Hillside about once a month and were pleased with the dedication ceremony, which was less about memorializing their daughter than it was about announcing the project to the community.

About 75 people attended the dedication, at which the Turners expressed their gratitude to the dozens that worked on the project and to the community for its support both during the search and in the aftermath of Huston’s death.

“This would not have happened anywhere else,” Deb Turner said. “I think we can honestly say that.”