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Monday, February 17, 2020

06-08 Gary Post-Tribune

Tree-Planting Renews Life
By Judy Banks

Gary – At Wallace High School Monday, a tree was planted as a symbol of life and healing in remembrance of Gary Bible teacher Ruth E. Pelke. Pelke died at the hands of four Wallace freshman girls eight years ago, who robbed her of $10. The incident put a negative stigma on the school.
For principal Marion Williams and assistant principal Paul Freeland, the tree planting was a sign of reconciliation.
“This tragedy has been a cloud over the school and the students…and this is the beginning of a healing process,” said Freeland.
Pelke’s grandchildren, Bill Pelke and Judi Weyhe, spoke to students, administrators and concerned citizens about reconciliation.
Pelke said after replaying the death of his grandmother, he thought about the then 15-year-old Paula Cooper, who was sentenced to die in Indiana’s electric chair.
“I began to pray and I asked God to give me love and compassion because I was convinced that my grandmother would have had love and compassion for Paula, because she reached out to young girls like her.”
He said he began to write to Cooper and expressed publicly that he did not want her to be executed.
In July 1989, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that Cooper’s age at the time of the murder made her ineligible for the death penalty, and her sentence was reduced to 60 years. Cooper, who is now 23, is eligible for parole after serving 30 years in the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis.
Pelke said, “ I didn’t want to take a life for the loss of a loved one.”
Fighting back tears, Pelke and Weyhe presented a plaque to the school in honor of their grandmother.
Weyhe said, “If anyone asks you, you can tell them that we have reconciled our feelings…you can tell them that it’s OK.”
The plaque Weyhe presented read, “In spirit of love, compassion and forgiveness”
The tree planting ceremony was a part of a two-week educational tour called Journey of Hope that protests the death penalty. It is sponsored by Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation (MVFR) and is based out of Pelke’s Portage home.
MVFR provides a forum for murder victim’s surviving relatives and friends who oppose the death penalty.