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Stafford recognized as honorary 'mom'




Daughter of Janetta Evins

With bluegrass music just over the hill and the promise of spring budding from acres of trees, residents at Bethesda Place welcomed friends to celebrate all mothers and honor their own, Shelley Stafford.

The inaugural Shelley Stafford Honorary Garden Day was Saturday at Bethesda Place, located 2 miles west of Hays. For Stafford, the focus was on others.

"It's not about me; it's about all the men," she said of the home for men with mental disabilities she and her husband, Tom, opened in the late 1970s. "All the work that they have done."

Introductions from new and old friends came from every corner of the Giving Garden and picnic area as people of all ages wearing green T-shirts bearing the words "love is patient," strolled the pathways and paused for refreshments.

Stafford recalled the days when the lush gardens, three homes and 35 acres were a simple 5-acre pasture. It was God, Stafford said, that inspired the Bethesda family journey.

"What I tell people is that I know I serve an awesome God," she said. "He took my husband and I, two sinners, all the men, mentally handicapped, and my daughter came along, and made a pasture into the paradise you see today."

Stafford retired from her position with Bethesda Place last fall, handing over duties to her daughter and son-in-law, Amanda and Jarod Tippy.

Bethesda Place includes a working tree farm and produce and flower gardens. The Bethesda family of six men, some of whom have been with the Staffords for more than three decades, cultivates trees, sells firewood and does woodworking.

"I see my future as being the grandmother that I should be to these men and just continue to love them and make sure everything's going OK," Stafford said.

Well-wishers and helpers were quick to offer hugs and gifts to Stafford. A long-time friend, Blanca Ayre, told Stafford she had dropped in to make sure the day went "without a hitch."

Ayre reminded Stafford her job for the day simply was to have a good time.

"Be still and enjoy," Ayre told her.

Events throughout the day included music from the Frost Mountain Clan, landscaping talks, a ceremony honoring Stafford, lunch, games, art, tours and flower planting.

It's hoped, Amanda Tippy said, the Shelley Stafford Honorary Garden Day can become an annual event.

"I think if we do it every year on the Saturday before Mother's Day, then people can have a consistent thing to look forward to and keep us connected to the community," Tippy said.