Kindness tree ceremony

COLUMBIA – A kindness tree was dedicated to three individuals whose compassion and service had a positive impact on Columbia Public Schools.

A Yellow “Butterfly” Magnolia was planted and dedicated to honor several members of the community in observation of World Kindness Day. The ceremony was organized by the nonprofit group Children’s Grove.

The effort is part of the organization’s Kindness Tree Program. The trees are planted as a reminder to the community about the importance of kind acts. Donors provide the funds and dedicated the plant to an individual of their choosing.

Battle's tree was donated by Darlene Huff in honor of her late husband Gene, who passed way in 2003. He was the principal of Oakland Junior High for 14 of his 33 years in Columbia Public Schools.

Huff said her husband’s impact is still felt today.

“I have people even today that when I see them, they'll tell me about the kind things he did,” Huff said. “He was very personable with the students and they loved him.”

Battle’s first principal Kim Presko and the late Muriel Battle, who the school is named after, were also honored. Presko said recognition for her kindness is heartwarming.

“People remember how they feel about you,” Presko said. “I believe in the world today, it's important always be kind.”

Muriel Battle served Columbia Public Schools for 40 years. She died in 2003

The roots of the Kindness Tree Program

The first of the Magnolias were planted at Stephen’s Lake Park through what was, at the time, an independent project. The 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut was the motivation behind effort.

“We have been committed to try to honor them,” Duff said, who is also a Children’s Grove board member. “We also address kindness and help for all children.”

Since then, a total over 30 trees have been planted. The organization hopes to one day have a tree at every school in Columbia as well as throughout the city.

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