Amelia’s Cow, painted by artist Nini Crane, was delivered to its new home at the Orchard Elementary School in November, where it stands as a tribute to Amelia Sperry. It is surrounded by miniature cows created by Orchard students.

Honoring Amelia

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Friday June 03, 2011

Laughter echoed down the halls of Orchard School as the first graders chased clues in a scavenger hunt. Among bookshelves and bins, 48 hand-painted papier-mâché cows were proudly displayed, waiting to be discovered for their attributes. These works of art, miniature replicas of a fiberglass cow which now resides in the school lobby as a memorial, were produced by the loving hands of elementary school children to celebrate the life of a beloved classmate and friend on Friday, May 27, 2011, the day which would have marked Amelia Sperry’s 7th birthday.

In 2010, retired reading specialist and South Burlington resident Nini Crane was among the artists selected to participate in the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce Cows Come Home walking tour for the arts on Church Street in Burlington. For six weeks she labored to paint the stout cow sculpture to life with bright, cheerful depictions of Vermont’s four seasons, including sailboats, ice cream cones, an apple orchard, pumpkins, skiers and skaters and a bear cub lapping up spilled maple syrup—all intentionally designed to appeal to children. One of the admirers was kindergartner Amelia Sperry, who visited the downtown display one year ago in mid May, just days before she lost her life in a tragic accident while riding her bicycle.

The community of South Burlington united in their shared grief. Thanks to a generous donation from local philanthropist and R.E.M. Development founder, Bobby Miller, and his wife, Holly, the original sponsors of Crane’s showpiece, the cow was rescued from a charity auction for a higher purpose. After Crane delicately retouched the paint—personalizing the artwork for Amelia with an abundance of hearts and adding Amelia’s name in conspicuous places—and Dan Bouchard’s Garage charitably applied a clear coat to preserve the delicate finish, the beautiful bovine was delivered to its new home at the Orchard School in November, where it stands as a tribute to Amelia.

To many, including Crane, the cow—now fondly known as Amelia’s Cow—was the ideal choice to honor Amelia, not only because the little girl derived great joy from it, but also because kids of every age relate to the warm and friendly creature.

“They can look at it and think of her,” said Crane, who discovered her gift for painting after 32 years of teaching. “It’s special to me that Amelia loved the cow. I’m humbled and honored that it could be used for healing.”

Deeply touched by the outcome of events, Crane created scrapbooks capturing the creation of Amelia’s cow from conception through dedication, complete with photos, for the Sperrys, Millers, and Orchard School. She shared the book with Amelia’s classmates, now first graders, and her former kindergarten teacher Jason Pecor this spring. “The kids wanted to tell me all about Amelia,” Crane recalled. “I think it was a great vehicle to talk about her and answer questions. And it was a good way to remember Amelia.”

With May approaching, Pecor and Crane began collaborating on a special team project which would incorporate art and learning into a fun remembrance and celebration of Amelia’s life on the first anniversary of her passing. Crane enlisted the support of UVM students, a family member and friends, including ninety-year-old Ginny Nieley, to help three classes of first graders paper mache and paint the hand-crafted cow structures she molded out of milk containers, inflated balloons, and cardboard paper towel rolls. Over a five-week period, the children succeeded in creating their own unique cow models and books detailing their works.

“The kids loved it,” said Pecor. “Amelia was really artistic and this was a nice way for this group of kids who have been together to pay tribute to her.”

Each cow had its own charm: some were striped, some were spotted, and others were adorned with flowers, hearts and stars. Many of the children chose Amelia’s favorite colors, pink and purple, in their designs.

At 10 a.m. on Friday morning, children, school administrators, parents, and volunteers gathered for the celebration. Following a brief welcome by Pecor, seven balloons were released, lifted to the heavens by the cheers of the children. “We know Amelia’s spirit is with us,” Pecor shared. As no party would be complete without cake, dessert was served, completing the day’s festivities.

Student Dashiell “Dash” Neroni, a close friend and neighbor to Amelia who most enjoyed the scavenger hunt, said, “I played with her every day. She was a nice friend.”

“We are very thankful for all the support we have received from Orchard School and the South Burlington Community during this difficult time,” expressed Karen and Tyler Sperry who attended the celebration. “We think it’s great that the kids are doing something fun and whimsical to remember Amelia with their cow project.”

Crane, having developed a true sense of belonging at Orchard School, plans to continue to share her time and volunteer her talents. “I love the fact that I can get back into teaching in such a satisfying way,” she said.

His thoughts are with the Sperry family, Pecor said, “We wanted to let them know we’re still thinking of them. We haven’t forgotten, and we’re not going to forget.”

SOURCE: Lisa Osbahr, Correspondent