Cherry Creek Village resident Chris Burnette and his dog Minnie sit in the garden he planted at the community.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Cherry Creek Village Independent Senior Living Community is shining a bit brighter than before.
As summer settles throughout Etowah County and warmer days abound, one resident is planting happiness in his new home, with the hope of spreading joy and comfort to all who visit Cherry Creek.
Originally from Clanton, Chris Burnette and his wife, Peggy, took root in Gadsden following their marriage in 1976. The couple have two children, a daughter, Hannah and a son, Joshua. Both educators, Peggy taught math and science at Southside High School while Burnette established himself as a kindergarten teacher at George W. Floyd Elementary School, Oscar Adams Elementary School and Walnut Park Elementary School. At one time, Burnette served as the sole male kindergarten teacher in Alabama.
“I loved teaching kindergarten,” said Burnette. “I just love the fresh little minds. They’re kind of like little flowers – you start off with a flat surface and you see them bloom. A lot of people said they couldn’t teach kindergarten, but [kindergarteners] are funny every minute of the day. Just to see them learn little things is special to me.”
Burnette’s relationship with gardening sprouted at a young age, under the wise guidance of his grandmother. While in elementary school, Burnette often stayed with his grandmother while his mother worked, admiring her vast knowledge of planting and gleaming a greater understanding of life during their time together.
Burnette shared that his grandmother taught him little, hidden details not found in books – pearls of wisdom passed down from generations rather than traditionally taught.
As the pair tended flowers in her yard, Burnette recalled breaking off limbs and sticking them in the ground to shade new plants. He noted that all grandchildren in his family loved learning from his grandmother as he did, a woman who lived to be in her 90s and – like Burnette – never ceased to influence those around her.
“There’s a lot of life lessons to learn from planting flowers,” said Burnette. “It’s very rewarding to see how sometimes, even the scrawniest plants turn out to be the prettiest ones. I’ll put them out and I’ll tell them, ‘Grow and make something of yourself.’ Every day, they change. That’s exciting. Each one has their own personality [like when] you meet other people – everyone has their own personality.”
Never an idle person, but rather a humble man with a heart of service, Burnette’s impact on his community proves grand. His gentle and kind nature affect all who meet him, who are greeted by his warm and genuine smile. From his years educating children and serving as a guidance counselor, to he and Peggy’s wedding business, to teaching GriefShare at MeadowBrook Church, Burnette’s dedication to others remains unwavering.
At 70, Burnette found himself traveling down a new path. Following the death of Peggy, who Burnette cared for throughout the years, Burnette experienced a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side. When he moved to Cherry Creek Village, Burnette discovered a new manner in which he could give the gift of joy to others, through a talent he acquired as a child – planting flowers.
“I’ve been blessed that even with this stroke, it has opened up new doors for God to do something with me,” said Burnette. “It’s really amazing what you can learn and do when you have a major change like that. The main [reason behind planting the flowers] is just to make Cherry Creek our happy home. It has such a friendly, home atmosphere – we just needed a little color. I just love people, and I love to help them and make them smile.”
Inspired by the hospitable atmosphere that comforted Burnette at Cherry Creek, he sought to perpetuate Cherry Creek’s mission of creating an environment residents enjoy and cherish. With the support of Cherry Creek’s encouraging staff and the assistance of his fellow residents and friends, Burnette purchased and planted a collection of beautiful blooms throughout the community.
What Burnette and his team sowed in a small corner soon flourished beautifully, with cheerful and vibrant blossoms welcoming all who meander past. Hanging baskets and potted collections of fuchsia petunias, orange Gerber daisies and marigolds brighten the community, complimenting the green space complete with a lounge area of benches, tables with umbrellas and outdoor seating.
Burnette even considered days when clouds collect in the sky, freshening up a mini-sunroom where residents can sit and relax, enjoying the garden under a covered roof, regardless of the rain. Rose bushes and flower beds drift toward a lovely stone retaining wall that rests just footsteps from the village’s pool. At night, lights illuminate the garden, where fireflies twinkle and guests share stories with one another.
An independent living community in the heart of Attalla, Cherry Creek Village caters to residents 55 years and older, who require little assistance, giving them an all-inclusive lifestyle complete with services and amenities. At Cherry Creek, residents live in fully-equipped private apartments that feature kitchenettes and weekly provided housekeeping, choosing from a variety of sizes from studios to two-bedroom options. The community also offers fine dining services with three meals a day or a select meal package plan.
While residents at Cherry Creek often own their own vehicles and drive, for those who do not, transportation is provided. Helpful and professional staff remain onsite 24/7 should any medical emergencies arise. Though Cherry Creek offers residents endless benefits, perhaps the greatest gift of all is one Burnette considers a priceless treasure – the friendship and family atmosphere that abounds.
“One of my best benefits [at Cherry Creek] is getting to see people and talk to them and hear them laugh,” said Burnette. “I’ve always been kind of a jokester, so it’s just like a dose of medicine. I’ve enjoyed getting to know other people and learning from them. You find out little things about people…like their birthday is the same day as yours, or they have a puppy like mine. One of my main goals was for everybody else to enjoy every bloom [and each other]. I’ve just enjoyed every minute of it. The people here at administration have been so supportive of me – they help me in any way they can.”
Burnette’s garden mirrors the positive growth he has fostered throughout his life, representing an endeavor crafted with the joy and happiness of others flourishing at its source. As the plants blossom throughout Cherry Creek, the lives Burnette touched follow suit. His efforts as an educator span far beyond his classroom, as he plants seeds of benevolence and nurtures generosity in each phase of his life – from kindergarten teacher and husband, counselor and father, planner and friend. Burnette’s optimistic influence manifests once more at Cherry Creek, where a garden party proves the perfect fit to reminisce with old friends.
Burnette humbly offered a bit of wisdom for younger generations to consider.
“They need to invest themselves in other people,” said Burnette. “Everybody now is just ‘me, me, me.’ True happiness is investing in the lives of other people. That helped me out when I lost my wife. I kept busy doing things, helping people.”
“I’ve always loved people. I love doing for people. My wife was sick for 18 years…yet really, I enjoyed being with her and ministering to her. She was the same way. We had hundreds of people in our home over the years, always trying to make other people feel good. That favor has come back to me a lot of times.”