Michaela’s garden grows to benefit family foundation


By Robin Lee Michel


The Plainville CitizenMichaela Petit’s favorite flowers,Four O’Clocks, live on and are abun-dantly growing, now to fund the PetitFamily Foundation.


Three years ago, the colorfulperennials were dug up outside thePetits’ torched house in Cheshire, inwhich Michaela, her sister, Hayleyand mother, Jennifer Hawke Petit,died during a home invasion. Dr.William A. Petit Jr., father and hus-band, was the sole survivor.


The girls’ uncle, Dennis Chapman,of Plainville, went to the home sever-al days after the July 27, 2007 tragedyto collect remaining belongings, ofwhich there were few, he said. Hethen looked to the yard to see whatcould be salvaged. On one side of thehouse were Four O’Clocks, whichMichaela’s father said were hisyoungest daughter’s favorite flowers.


Chapman, who is married to Dr.Petit’s sister, Johanna Petit Chap-man, planted them in hisown yard that August not ex-pecting them to take to thetransplant. “I figured it waslucky if they survived,” hesaid. When fall came, he col-lected seeds and plantedthem the following spring.Soon his driveway was linedwith the plants.


He had the thought to con-tinue with the propagation ofhis niece’s flowers by collect-ing the large seeds and sell-ing them to benefit the PetitFamily Foundation whosemission is to “foster the edu-cation of young people, espe-cially women in the sciences;to improve the lives of thoseaffected by chronic illnesses;and to support efforts to pro-tect and help those affectedby violence,” according to thefoundation website www.pe-titfamilyfoundation.org . Thefoundation board of direc-tors were all in favor of theidea, Chapman said.


Last year, he provided sev-eral Scout troops with seedsto sell for a fundraiser to ben-efit them and the Petit Fami-ly Foundation. Several farmsin Connecticut volunteeredto grow the seeds, which theyreturn to Chapman. He hasalso received queries frompeople as close as Wolcott andas far as Michigan and Indi-ana. Some are growing indowntown planters.


This fall, Cub Scout Pack49, led by Greg Karal, came tothe Chapman home to helpcollect the seeds. In all, morethan 100,000 seeds were har-vested.


On Monday, approximately50 volunteers reported to thePlainville Senior Centerwhere they counted out 25seeds, placed them in special-ly designed seed packets andsealed them with glue. Thework flowed smoothly, neces-sitating Chapman to returnhome to collect more seedsand envelopes. Fifty finishedpackets were placed in longboxes that previously heldpackages of Americancheese at the Southingtonstore owned by Michael Petit,Dr. Petit’s brother and thegirls’ uncle.


Gertrude Ahlgren sat at atable counting out 25 seedsand arranging them in piles.Other people put them in en-velopes and sealed the pack-ets. Ahlgren, of Plainville,volunteered because “Ithought it was a good cause. Iknow the Petits,” and she isinterested in contributingher efforts to the foundation,she said.


Joyce Cannon, who for-merly lived in Plainville andnow lives in Bristol, is also asenior center member. “Ithink it’s a great thing to doin memory of those women,”she said.


Sal Ma


arella was one ofthe few men who turned outfor the project. With his wife,Mary, they volunteered “be-cause we think it’s worth it,”he whispered because he hadlost his voice.


The session was scheduledto end at 3 p.m., however, thebusy volunteers accom-plished the project well be-fore that time. Chapman saida second session could possi-bly be held in the spring afterhe washes more seeds and or-ganizes supplies.


The seeds are being soldfor $10 per packet in variousbusinesses. For now, the bestlocation in which to purchasethem is at the foundation of-fice at 32 Whiting St., Chap-man said.


“Next year, our goal is 1million seeds. That’s whatI’m trying for,” Chapmansaid. “If we sell 80 percent,that is $350,000 to $400,000 forthe foundation.”


The seeds will not be soldon the foundation website un-til 1 million are collected, hesaid. Chapman vows that noother Four O’Clock seeds willbe sold; they must be fromMichaela’s flowers.