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Grown through grief

F-M junior's heartbreaking loss becomes inspiration for FSC memory garden

Seventeen-year-old Rachael Ristau sat in the front row, eager to approach the Fayetteville Village Board about the next step in her desire to create a memory garden outside the Fayetteville Senior Center. Seated with her at the Aug. 24 meeting was Jim Knittel and Donna Bartolotti, both representatives of Dalpos, an architectural firm based in Syracuse.

"I contacted Rachael after I read an editorial in The Post-Standard written by a friend of hers asking for help and support," Bartolotti said. "Our office decided to offer our services to help develop the design and drawings to get the approvals needed for Rachael to realize this dream and to guide her through the process."

Ristau's father died of cancer when she was 12 years old. Since then, Ristau has made it her mission to help find a cure for cancer by holding fundraisers such as car washes, and now by creating a memory garden -- with the board's approval.

After some discussion concerning funds, maintenance and size of the garden, Mayor Mark Olson told Ristau she could continue to move forward with her plans. Ristau, remaining composed and appreciative of the board's support while in the meeting room, let out a squeal of delight when she entered the hallway.

"We have quickly learned what an amazing young woman she is," Bartolotti said. "She is tireless at volunteering and wanting to contribute anything she can to ease the suffering of others."

Ristau is active in volunteering, particularly with those who are grieving. She occasionally volunteers at the Francis House and with HOPE for the Bereaved, and spent time this summer at Camp Good Days and Special Times.

"Helping other people helps me feel good about myself," she said, "because I know how it feels to have no solution to your problems and how scary that feels."

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