A bronze memorial plaque and stone garden owl are features of the Kim Gibbs Memorial Garden at Barton Park South.

A bronze memorial plaque and stone garden owl are features of the Kim Gibbs Memorial Garden at Barton Park South.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Royal Oak group completes Kim Gibbs Memorial Garden

Dedication set for June 25

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published June 23, 2021

 A gazebo offers shade near the Kim Gibbs Memorial Garden at Barton Park South.

A gazebo offers shade near the Kim Gibbs Memorial Garden at Barton Park South.

Photo by Deb Jacques

ROYAL OAK — After the sudden and untimely death of Royal Oak City Commissioner Kim Gibbs, her friends wanted to do something to honor her memory.

With Gibbs remembered as a nature lover and avid gardener with a heart for serving her community, the group landed on a memorial garden. The endeavor would not only spruce up a local park, but also offer beauty and solace for years to come.

They decided on Barton Park South because of its proximity to the Royal Oak Farmers Market. Gibbs was a regular patron, volunteer and friend at the market, and the park was in need of a face-lift.

The Department of Public Service removed a group of large burning bushes that blocked the view of the gazebo from Troy Street and cleaned up the planting beds surrounding the structure to provide a blank slate for the garden.

The public donated more than $3,600 for the project, and Jan Bills, owner of Two Women and a Hoe, designed the “virtually maintenance-free” garden at no cost.

The garden includes Little Lime hydrangea, Little Devil ninebark, Pugster Blue butterfly bushes, Lil’ Kim rose of Sharon, seasonal containers, an existing tree and decorative boulders.

“Kim loved the wildlife. She loved nature, and she worked hard for her city. I know it wasn’t always easy for her — she was up against a lot in the city,” Bills said. “She was very dedicated in everything she did, and she was a hard worker.”

Sandy Fleming, Gibbs’ mother, donated a bronze memorial plaque featuring a sunflower, her daughter’s favorite flower, and the message, “If speaking kindly to plants helps them grow, imagine what speaking kindly to humans can do,” as well as a stone garden owl, Gibbs’ favorite bird.

“I miss her. I think (the memorial garden) is wonderful. She has some great friends,” Fleming said. “She was happiest when she was helping somebody.”

Gibbs’ family will host a dedication ceremony at the garden at 10 a.m. Friday, June 25, featuring guest speaker Jim Tuman, of Jimmy’s Kids, whom Gibbs considered to be a mentor. Tuman is a national youth speaker whose mission is helping youths cope with bullying, teen suicide and alienation.

Erika Sykes, who led the initiative, said the group is asking those who attend the ceremony to bring a painted rock with a kind message to leave at the garden.

“Volunteers have been watering the plants daily to help make sure they get established and stay healthy,” Sykes said. “We are still in need of volunteers to continue watering the garden deep every other day throughout the summer. This will help ensure that the plants’ roots stay moist and grow deep.”

Anyone interested in helping can visit the online sign-up at bit.ly/KimGibbs.

Gibbs died Aug. 20, 2020, at the age of 48, two weeks after her mother discovered her unconscious in her home. She reportedly suffered a seizure after being involved in a car accident. An attorney, Gibbs also had Type 1 diabetes.

Gibbs reportedly suffered after the City Commission censured, or formally condemned, her after she attended a protest in Lansing against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lockdown orders April 15, from which she also received national backlash.

In May 2020, police issued her a retail fraud citation after she did not pay for all of her groceries at Meijer, and she released a statement apologizing and outlining the economic impact of the lockdown on her financially.

“Recently, I had to choose between insulin and food, and I chose the insulin, which helps me stay alive; however, that left extraordinarily little money for food after paying for medical and insurance and insulin,” she wrote. “I have realized, as I have been told by friends, that I need, and am seeking help.”

The late commissioner is remembered for her bubbly personality, positive energy, smile, spirituality and desire to help others.

Barton Park South is located at 333 N. Troy St., north of East 11 Mile Road.