A memorial bench honoring the legacy of a fallen Morgan County High School student, Michael Rhodes, has been erected in a special garden beside another memorial bench honoring Seth Stapleton, a fellow MCHS student who died in 2015. The two granite benches have been placed near the main entrance of the Bill Corry Stadium to honor the two young football players taken too soon from this world.
Both Rhodes and Stapleton were killed in tragic car accidents. Michael’s jersey, number 72, and Seth’s jersey, number 71, have both been retired to honor their memory as “Forever Bulldogs” at Morgan County High School.
The memorial benches have touched the Rhodes and Stapleton families deeply as they continue to grieve the loss of these beloved boys.
“The outpouring of support from the community was overwhelming,” said Mike Rhodes, Michael’s father, on behalf of himself, Michael’s mother Tracey Rhodes, and Michael’s younger brother, Adam Rhodes. “Michael loved Madison, Morgan County and MCHS. We are grateful to Dr. Edwards, Doug Connelly, Coach Bill Malone and the students of MCHS for choosing to honor Michael. Together they have enabled his memory to forever be a part of MCHS. He will forever be a bulldog.”
Michael died in April 2017, along with his girlfriend Brittany Smith, a MCHS graduate and former Lady Bulldog softball player, during a fatal car crash on Hwy. 441 in Putnam County.
“If ever you saw Michael, he was smiling,” said Mike Rhodes. “He was known for that smile. He was a happy guy. One of his missions was to ‘fill the gym’ for FCA on Thursday mornings. He was deep in his faith and not afraid to share it with others. One of Michael’s favorite verses is Proverbs 19:21: ‘You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.’ One thing to know about Michael is that he lived life
to the fullest. He wasn’t afraid to get involved – to try something new or to meet new people. We hope that one of the things people remember about Michael is that he ‘lived all in.’ Though we only had him with us for 18 years and 12 days, he made an impact on many. We miss our son. Adam misses his brother. We know many in our community miss him, too. We are thankful for the prayers, love and support. Morgan County is a special place. It was a truly special place to Michael.”
Seth’s parents, Ray and Angela Stapleton, head up a scholarship in Seth’s name after being moved by all the love and support from Morgan County since Seth’s accident.
“The ongoing support from the community of Morgan County and the school, the way they are, we are so grateful. We have created a scholarship in Seth’s memory that we support each year to give and back and to keep Seth’s spirit alive,” said Ray Stapleton
The memorial garden came together through various efforts, first for Seth who passed away in Oct. 2015, and later for Michael who passed in April of this year. An outpouring of community support and generosity led to the project to combine Michael and Seth’s memorial benches, with leadership and input given by MCHS Principal Dr. Miki Edwards, Athletics Director Doug Connelly, Football Coach Bill Malone, MCHS Teacher Kaitlyn Butler, MCHS landscape design students, Great Estates Landscaping, Elbert County Coach Mike Williams, Vince Fernandez, Alton Mercer and David Dye with Elite Stone Solutions, and Andy Vaughters, head of maintenance for the Morgan County School System.
Laura Rotroff, marketing and communications manager for Great Estates Landscaping, explained how the landscaping company worked with MCHS students to personalize the memorial garden.
“Students from Ms. Kaitlyn Butler’s Landscape Design class developed landscape plans for the space. Working with Great Estates Landscaping, the elements of the students’ designs were incorporated into the final plan for the space,” said Rotroff. “A true community effort, several local businesses donated materials for the project. Bostwick Sod donated the grass; Abbey View Farm in Greensboro donated the shrubs; Gralan Farms donated trees; and Madison Rental donated a skidsteer to remove the old plants to prepare the space. Working with Great Estates Landscaping, students from both the Agriculture and Landscape Design classes, installed the new landscaping.”
Rotroff noted that many of the employees at Great Estates Landscaping have children at MCHS and were affected deeply by the passing of Michael Rhodes and Seth Stapleton.
“This was close to our hearts,” said Rotroff. “It’s definitely a community effort and it takes everyone coming together to make these things happen. We were happy to do our part in something like this that means so much to the families in our community.”
Dr. Edwards hoped the memorial garden would not only honor Michael’s and Seth’s legacies, but to also give students an opportunity to work through their grief.
“This was such an important, collaborative effort by our school system, local businesses, and the local community,” said Dr. Edwards. “Athletics was such a huge part of these boys’ lives, we wanted to have this space where they could be remembered for doing what they loved and to give our students the chance to put something together to honor their classmates.”
Dr. Edwards noted that Ray Stapleton was the driving force behind the project.
“Ray was really the touch point for this. He coordinated getting the volunteers and donations to make all this happen,” said Edwards.
The final product has proven to be a meaningful and symbolic testament to the lives of Michael Rhodes and Seth Stapleton for the entire community to reflect upon as they keep Seth and Michael alive in their hearts and continue to support the families they left behind.
“The love that was shown for Michael, Brittany, our family and the Smith family was, and continues to be, remarkable,” said Mike Rhodes.