Kimberly Ochoa and Leightta Sherrill met in second grade at Brookwood School. That was the same year that Kimberly was diagnosed with leukemia.
The two remained friends even after Kimberly transferred to another school. Members of the same Girl Scout troop, Kimberly and Leightta did scouting projects together and went on scouting trips. And Leightta visited Kimberly when Kimberly was in the hospital.
“Kimberly was never a girl to be angry or mad. Every time that I saw her, whether she was doing normal kid’s stuff or was hooked up to a machine, she was always happy,” said Leightta.
But after eight years, Kimberly lost her battle with leukemia in July. That day, Leightta sat down and wrote a letter to Dalton Mayor David Pennington.
“Kimberly was one of the sweetest girls I’ve ever known. I just thought we needed to do something to remember her forever,” said Leightta, 11.
In her letter, Leightta wrote “I was really hoping that while I was writing this I would think of something we could do in honor of Kimberly’s life, like open a volunteer group for children with cancer, or dedicate a tree in Civitan Park to her, but now I realize that it’s very expensive and since you didn’t personally know Kimberly it might not be convenient to you.”
She went on to write, “Kimberly was always smiling. She never disagreed with anyone and always took her treatments with bravery.”
Pennington says he’s gotten plenty of letters and emails from residents since he took office but nothing quite like the one he got from Leightta Sherrill.
“The love and friendship between those two girls was obvious. We always talk about how important children are to this community. This was an opportunity for us to show just how important they are to us,” Pennington said. “I talked to several other city officials, and we decided that planting a tree at Civitan Park would be very appropriate.”
So Pennington wrote back to Leightta and let her know the city would plant a tree to honor not only Kimberly but all of the critically ill children in the community.
“I was really excited when I got the letter. I knew that Kimberly’s memory would live on much longer than we could,” Leightta said.
Leightta’s mother Marg said she was also thrilled to get Pennington’s letter.
“She (Leightta) didn’t show me her letter before she sent it. I gave her a stamp and helped her look up the address of City Hall, so I knew she was sending it. But I didn’t know exactly what she had written,” Marg Sherrill said. “When we got the letter from the mayor I was really impressed. I know he must get a lot of requests. But Kimberly was so deserving. She was a lovely, lovely girl.”
Rita Rehberg’s daughter Lily is a member of the same Girl Scout troop as Kimberly and Leightta, and she says she recalls how excited all the girls were to find out that a tree would be dedicated to their friend.
“They were going on a camping trip about that time, and Leightta brought the letter she got from the mayor and shared it with them,” she said. “They were all very touched. The girls loved Kimberly a lot, and it meant a lot to them.”
Andrea Mansfield is the adult leader of that troop, and she said that Kimberly impacted all of the other girls.
“She was a joy to be around. It was a privilege to get to know her,” she said.
On Friday, Dec. 7, Kimberly’s classmates, fellow Girl Scout members, friends and family members gathered to dedicate the tree in her memory at Civitan Park.
“Kimberly was really smart, and our friend Lily said it was really appropriate that they got an Athena elm because Athena was the goddess of wisdom. It was really cool,” said Leightta.