Legacy and inspiration


Generous, caring, faithful, kind, respectful, joyful, honest, loyal and cheerful are words that come to mind when family and friends think of David Sandhage.

The Trinity Lutheran High School teacher died May 19, 2014, after falling from a ladder at his home.

The Class of 2014 came up with a way to honor Sandhage and keep his memory alive for years to come. The result was David’s Tree, a sculpture made of stainless steel and iron with leaves inscribed with the words shared by those who knew him best.

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The sculpture recently was dedicated during a ceremony at the school. Sandhage’s family and Trinity students and staff attended, and the Rev. Jimmy Rodriguez of Immanuel Lutheran Church offered a blessing.

“This is important in that it is not meant to be a memorial like a tombstone is a memorial. The sculpture is an inspiration and a work of art,” said Cathy Sandhage, David Sandhage’s wife of 37 years. “The sculpture meant to me that David left a legacy that few people in this world are able to do.”

About 20 students in Blake Hackman’s welding classes at Brownstown Central High School were involved with the project. Hackman knew the Sandhages from attending Immanuel, and he and David Sandhage were in the choir.

“David was also a fellow teacher. We would always discuss teacher stuff,” Hackman said. “He was a Christian man with a love for life and people.”

When she found out about the sculpture, Cathy Sandhage said she was surprised and humbled.

“I did not realize what an impact David made at Trinity in the three years he was there,” she said.

Hackman said he had done several other metal sculptures in Seymour. Allison Trimpe, a 2014 Trinity graduate, called and asked him if he would make a sculpture in memory of Sandhage on behalf of the Class of 2014.

Trimpe said many students from her class worked closely with Sandhage through either the National Honor Society, mock trial or the Veterans Day program with student government. Some also had him as a teacher.

“We were all devastated when we heard the news,” Trimpe said of Sandhage’s death. “The class decided we should do a memorial to remember Mr. Sandhage and what he stood for throughout his life. As student body president, I took the initiative to make the memorial happen by collecting money from the Class of 2014 and contacting Blake Hackman.”

Hackman said he teaches two semesters of welding, and both classes were involved, with the second-semester group finishing the project. They used a plasma cutter, oxy-fuel torch, an MIG welder and an arc welding machine to complete the project.

David McCart, a welding instructor at North Lawrence Career Center in Bedford, and his students used their machinery to cut out the lettering for the leaves. Glenn Benter assisted Hackman in making sure the structure was sound and safe.

“I came up with the design,” Hackman said. “The students had great input throughout the project, and changes were made according to their suggestions.”

From concept to dedication, the project took nine months to complete.

“Because of the materials incorporated into the sculpture, it will take at least one year for it to reach its final color and reveal all aspects of the design,” Hackman said.

When she first saw the sculpture, Cathy Sandhage said, she immediately loved it.

“I did not realize how well Blake Hackman knew David,” she said. “I feel they were kind of kindred spirits. David loved trees and forests. The woods on our farm was his place of peace, and he walked the trails almost daily.”

Trimpe also was happy with how the sculpture turned out.

“I think the completed sculpture looks wonderful,” she said. “Blake and his class did an amazing job, and the Class of 2014 cannot thank them enough. David’s Tree is a perfect example of what Mr. Sandhage stood for. The words on the leaves of the tree define him perfectly. Once the sculpture rusts, there will be a visible cross and crown of thorns that will stand for the strong Christian witness many people saw in Mr. Sandhage.”

Trinity Principal Dan Sievert said the sculpture could not be a more fitting and appropriate memorial for Sandhage.

“From the carefully chosen words to describe Mr. Sandhage to the stainless steel cross and crown, it is an effective witness to all who will see it,” he said.

During the dedication ceremony, Rodriguez said the words on the leaves of the tree will “shine just like David’s life made a bright, dazzling impact on our lives.”

But Rodriguez said an event like the dedication ceremony is something David Sandhage would have steered clear of because he wasn’t about the limelight.

“He was about working in the background to get things accomplished,” Rodriguez said. “He would probably chide us for those lists of kind traits that have been assigned to him. He would tell us that even though we saw him as caring, he was not perfectly caring. Even though we saw him as kind, he was not always kind. He knew he was a sinner, and the way the leaves shine in the stainless steel, they are still blemished by the solder. And that’s what David would want us to remember. He was not a perfect man, and neither are we.”

The cross, made of stainless steel, is intertwined in the tree. When the branches and trunk rust and fade, the cross will shine in the middle like a beacon of light holding up the tree, Rodriguez said.

“The cross in the tree reminds us of the perfect sacrifice that our savior, Jesus, endured on our behalf,” he said. “And if you look close to the top of the tree, you will see a twisted crown of thorns reminding us of the pain that Jesus accepted and suffered on that cross.”

The shining stainless steel of the cross also reminds us of Jesus’ conquering of death — the rust of death could not touch Jesus, and the rust of death could not overcome David Sandhage, Rodriguez said.

“He lives on with his Lord,” Rodriguez said. “And one day, when Jesus returns, the body and soul of all believers, all of us, David included, will be reunited and live on into eternity with all the perfection that God intended when he first made Adam and Eve.”

Rodriguez said Sandhage will be remembered as a “good and faithful servant” who has “entered into the joy of his master.”

“We remember the way God worked through him to make our lives brighter,” Rodriguez said. “And so we thank God for David’s life. But more importantly, we thank God that, through this artwork, we are pointed to risen Lord Jesus Christ, who alone receives our glory, honor and praise.”

Cathy Sandhage said she appreciated Rodriguez’s words, and she was impressed with the number of people who attended.

“The ceremony was just right, recognizing David but honoring Christ,” she said.

Trimpe said she was glad she was able to attend the ceremony.

“The day of the dedication turned out beautiful,” she said. “Pastor Rodriguez’s message was an example of how Mr. Sandhage not only impacted the lives of the youth he worked with daily but also how he impacted adults through his generosity and Christian witness.”

Hackman and two of his students attended the dedication, and he said it was very moving and a nice touch to finalize the project.

“It is always exciting to be involved in community projects, especially for a person who was so community-oriented,” Hackman said. “Also, I find it very rewarding to involve students in projects that are permanent so as for them to be able to continue to appreciate their work and reflect on the meaning behind it.”

When people look at the sculpture, Cathy Sandhage said, she wants them to see Christ and the sacrifice he made for us.

“The words are fruits of the spirit and attributes we should all strive for,” she said. “In years to come, students will not have known David, but the message of Christ is timeless.”

Trimpe said she wants people to remember how David Sandhage was a great Christian witness.

“Through the tree, I am hoping that the generations who did not have the privilege of meeting Mr. Sandhage will also be impacted by his legacy,” she said.

Trimpe worked with David Sandhage in several capacities when she was a student at Trinity and during a few servant events. He also wrote letters of recommendation for her for college applications and scholarships.

“Mr. Sandhage was definitely an inspirational person,” she said. “I have heard many people describe him as a humble Christian servant. He was the type of person who would see you across the hall and go out of his way to see how your day was going.

“I will never forget the smile he always had on his face,” she said. “Even when I would be having a bad day, Mr. Sandhage knew what to say. He always had a great attitude and could find the positive in any situation. He definitely made a positive impact on my life and will always be a role model that I want to shape my life after.”

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