Statesman Journal Article
April 29, 2005
Service runs emotional gamut

Students, loved ones mourn loss of Grabenhorst-Garza, relish memories

Tears flowed freely Thursday as the community remembered a treasured teacher, friend and role model taken too soon from a life she lived to the fullest.
But there was laughter, too, as tales of Michelle Grabenhorst-Garza's skill at making the world a better place filled Morning Star Community Church.
Garza, 48, died of a heart attack April 22 at Leslie Middle School. She spent about 20 years as a teacher in Salem-Keizer schools.

Hundreds of current and former students joined Grabenhorst-Garza's husband, Armando Garza, and her daughter, Alisha Grabenhorst, at the service.
"We're all hurting a little bit," said Rico Mata, a seventh-grader. "It was tough coming here because she was a really good teacher."

Alisha Grabenhorst wanted the service to celebrate her mom's life, rather than focus on her passing.
"I didn't want it to be like a typical funeral," she said. "I wanted to give people a chance to voice how special she was to them." In a video presentation, Grabenhorst-Garza's zest for life was evident, whether playing volleyball or basketball, spending time with family and friends, or enjoying the outdoors and gardening. Longtime friends and colleagues said Grabenhorst-Garza spent her life giving to others."A more lovable person you will never find," said Judy Corona, who taught with Grabenhorst-Garza at Whiteaker Middle School. "She had a real gift for giving students what they needed when they needed it. She'll stay with us always." Many of the students who spoke during the sharing time said they still had a hard time believing that their teacher was gone. Each day, they still expect to see her smile or hear the encouragement that was usually not far behind. One of the students she encouraged was Chris Hatch, now a South Salem High School freshman. Grabenhorst-Garza urged him to continue his pursuit of music, and Hatch delivered a stirring version of "You Raise Me Up" at the service.

Longtime friend Dennis Heath, who led the service and is chaplain at Willamette Valley Hospice, said he hoped that talking about the loss will help the young people who knew Grabenhorst-Garza."It helps people deal with the loss by talking about it with each other," Heath said.

Jolene Garland, a fellow teacher at Leslie, brought some students to the service in hopes that it would help them. Students have spent a lot of time this week consoling each other."Talking about her has been a good healing process," Garland said. "It's important to hear the memories of someone we care about."
Seventh-graders Enrique Garcia and Jesse Anderson plan on keeping Grabenhorst-Garza in their thoughts for years to come."It's like some of the students said during the service," Jesse said. "As long as we always keep her in our memories, she will always be alive."

Statesman Journal Article
April 28, 2005
Leslie Middle School PE teacher died of heart attack, family says

An autopsy has determined that Leslie Middle School teacher Michelle Grabenhorst-Garza died of a heart attack, the family said Wednesday.
Grabenhorst-Garza, the school's physical-education teacher, was found Friday night by a custodian in her office in the girls' locker room.
Her family said the 48-year-old had no previous heart problems and that nothing else out of the ordinary was discovered during the private autopsy.
A public memorial service will be held in Grabenhorst-Garza's honor at 3:30 p.m. today at Morning Star Community Church, 4775 27th Ave. SE, in Salem.

Statesman Journal Article Obituary
April 27, 2005
Michelle Rae Grabenhorst-Garza
February 25, 1957 - April 22, 2005

SALEM - Born in Eureka, Calif. Predeceased by her loving father, Raymond L. Murphy of Arlington; two adoring step-fathers, Manuel Roque of Calif. and Richard L. Hill of La. She was the cherished granddaughter of the late Maybelle and G.W. Curtis Sr. of Salem and Calif. and dear great-granddaughter of Myrtle and Raymond Curtis of Calif. She is survived by her husband, Armando Garza; daughter, Alisha Grabenhorst; former husband, George Grabenhorst all of Salem; mother, Marjorie Hill of Calif.; uncle, George Curtis Jr. of Calif.; sisters, Maria Rupert and Elaina Roque of La., Kelley Wirt of Bandon and Cindy Vaughn of Wash.; brothers, Mark and Shawn Murphy of Cottage Grove; step-brothers, Mark and James Hill of Calif. and Ronald Hill of Fla.; cousins, Victoria, Dawn and George Curtis III of Calif.; step-mothers, Patricia Murphy of Bandon and Mary Roque of Calif. She is also survived by many nieces and nephews. A 1982 graduate of Western Oregon State College, she coached and taught Physical Education in Hood River and Sweet Home. Starting in 1986 she taught and coached for the Salem-Keizer School District working at Grant Elementary, McKay, Whiteaker and currently at Leslie Middle School. Michelle was a loving mother and devoted wife as well as a loyal friend and passionate teacher and coach. Like her great-grandmother, she could see the good in anyone. She was an avid gardener and had a knack for making beautiful hanging baskets. Michelle was like a beautiful bird soaring over our world, exploring life and touching each of us with her humor, spontaneity and elegance. She loved her family and cared deeply about her friends and students. She brought a ray of sunshine to all our lives and now she is gone much too soon. You will always be with each of us, our precious Michelle. Memorial service and celebration of life to be held on Thursday, April 28 beginning at 3:30 p.m., Morning Star Community Church, corner of Kuebler and 27th in SE Salem. Arrangements are by Virgil T. Golden Funeral Service.

Statesman Journal Article
April 24, 2005
Teacher died from medical problem

A memorial service is planned for P.E. teacher, family says
Counselors will be on hand Monday to help grieving students and staff members at Leslie Middle School cope with the loss of a veteran physical-education teacher who was found dead in her school office Friday night.
A custodian discovered Michelle Grabenhorst-Garza, 48, lying on the floor of her office in the girls locker room about 9:45 p.m. Friday, Salem police Lt. Steve Bellshaw said.
Police found no evidence of foul play, he said, and have finished their investigation. Officials concluded that Grabenhorst-Garza died of a medical problem.
Grabenhorst-Garza had been dead for at least an hour when paramedics and police arrived at the school, 3850 Pringle Road SE, Bellshaw said.
Grabenhorst-Garza had planned to leave Salem after work Friday and fly to Los Angeles, where her husband was working. Armando Garza said that he tried unsuccessfully to reach his wife Friday afternoon. He assumed that she had turned off her cell phone.
Garza said he waited until midnight at the airport before a family member called and informed him of his wife's death.
In her roughly 23 years with the Salem-Keizer School District, Grabenhorst-Garza spent time teaching at Grant Elementary School and Whiteaker Middle School before coming to Leslie in the fall of 2001.
"She had a real heart for kids," said Joyce Yoder, an assistant principal at Leslie Middle School. "We'll miss her."
Administrators at the school plan to meet after school Monday to decide how long grief counselors will remain at the roughly 800-student school.
As a physical education teacher, Grabenhorst-Garza interacted nearly every day with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students, Yoder said.
Wendy Cho spent the past four years working alongside Grabenhorst-Garza in the P.E. department. Cho, who teaches in the morning and works during the afternoon as the school's activities coordinator, last saw Grabenhorst-Garza about 10:30 a.m. Friday.
"She seemed normal," Cho said, adding that her colleague didn't complain of any health problems.
"She was a very enthusiastic teacher, had a great sense of humor and really ... had a soft spot in her heart for the kids," Cho said.
Grabenhorst-Garza's 20-year-old daughter, Alisha Grabenhorst, said Saturday that the family was planning a memorial service.
She described her mother as as an outgoing, physically active person who lived by the motto "carpe diem," a Latin phrase meaning "seize the day."
"She loved to teach," Grabenhorst said. "That was her passion. She always talked about her students."

Statesman Journal Article
April 23, 2005
Teacher found dead at Leslie Middle School

A female teacher at Leslie Middle School was found dead Friday night in a school locker room, the Salem Police Department said.
Officers were still on the scene late Friday investigating the death.
The woman appeared to be about 40 years old, Salem Police Lt. Dave Okada said.
However, police would not make her identity public until her next of kin had been notified.
Police were called to the school about 9:45 p.m. on a report by a male janitor who said he found a woman not breathing in a girls' locker room.
When police arrived at the scene they determined the woman was dead, Okada said.
Okada said there was no indication of foul play and that the death appeared to be due to natural causes.
The janitor who reported finding the woman was not identified.
Okada said an investigation would continue into early morning today.