In time, the crepe myrtle plunged into the ground at Lincoln Elementary School will bloom beautiful pink flowers.
It was Maria Fisicaro’s favorite shade, as witnessed by the color palette of Thursday’s tree dedication ceremony at the East Yosemite Avenue campus.
Friends, family and former colleagues gathered to honor the life and working accomplishments of Fisicaro, who died on June 24 after a bout with breast cancer.
Her death came on the heels of her retirement party at Chez Shari.
“Maria was a wonderful woman,” said Randi Sousa, program coordinator at Lincoln Elementary.
A longtime fixture at French Camp Elementary School, Fisicaro finished her career as an administrator at two school sites. She served as vice principal at Lincoln and French Camp during her final four years.
Though her colleagues at Lincoln only saw her part of the time, Fisicaro’s impact and presence could not be understated.
She was as bright and commanding as the color pink, a kind-hearted leader who smiled through her physical pain.
“Maria had a big heart. She loved children and she loved people. She was so thoughtful,” said Debbie Santos-Hagedorn, a Technical Support Advisor at Lincoln and Shasta elementary schools.
“Whether she was here or not, every month the girls in the office had a bouquet of flowers sent to them. The girls always had flowers on their desks from her. I think she did that at both school sites.
“… She was always doing a kind deed from someone and thinking of others first.”
The crepe myrtle was planted in a grassy patch between classrooms, near the tree honoring the late Robert Morgan, a longtime science teacher who passed away in April 2010.
The tree was donated by the Manteca Unified School District, of which Fisicaro had been an employee for nearly four decades.
She joined the district as a bilingual aide in 1977 and would later serve as administrator for eight years. She retired in late May.
Fisicaro’s husband of 45 years, Don Fisicaro, and her daughter, Melanie Jacobs, attended Thursday’s ceremony.
Members of the staff wore pink T-shirts with Fisicaro’s name printed on the sleeve. Fittingly, everything – from the punch to the cookies to the tablecloths – was washed in her favorite hue.
The ceremony was spearheaded by Santos-Hagedorn, who was commissioned by Principal Steve Anderson to orchestrate the school’s cancer awareness program.
Santos-Hagedron immediately went to work, designing T-shirts for staff and support to wear every Friday, as well as planning general activities such as a bake-off.
“We have a new principal and he’s had his own encounters with cancer in his family,” she said, “so supporting cancer awareness is near and dear to his heart.”
Many of the staff members feel the same way about Fisicaro, who never let her struggle with cancer become a distraction.
Santos-Hagedorn says they’ll be reminded of her each time they walk to and from the office. A large picture window frames the two trees. In time, Santos-Hagedorn said she’d like to see a patio poured near the trees, turning the space into a communal spot.
“I wanted it to be about honoring her and celebrating her life,” Santos-Hagedorn said. “… We chose a pink crepe myrtle that way when it blossoms we’ll think of her and we’ll think of cancer.”
Her husband Donald said Fisicaro worked within 10 days of her death after having just retired.
Santos-Hagedorn remembered Maria at the mid-afternoon gathering in a grassy area between buildings saying, “As I thought of Maria and the legacy she leaves behind – a legacy of beauty, of strength, of courage, of warmth, protection and everlasting joy and life, I thought, well, the one thing that matches those wonderful traits that Maria possessed is a beautiful tree.
“She treated us all like extended family . Maria was full of life, full of loved, she loved her job, she loved the children at her school sites and she loved her staff.”