Gate to Shepherd’s ‘Secret Garden’ is gift of love

Eric Busko admits to being old-fashioned and romantic when it comes to wedding anniversary gifts. Through the years, he opted to lavish his wife Mary with the traditional theme gifts to mark each milestone – whether it was paper for their first or gold for their 14th.

But for their 22nd, Eric broke from his custom and chose iron.

He designed a unique gate and commissioned a metalsmith sculptor to create it for the Shepherd Center on Peachtree Road. The artwork was a gift to his wife, who had been a patient there in early 2021 following a stroke. He also wanted to thank the therapists and other staff who gave so much.

Shepherd Center is a nationally-ranked hospital that specializes in rehabilitation and research for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

“My original intention was the gate would be a 22nd wedding anniversary gift but dedicated to Shepherd because the place is just incredible,” said Eric Busko of Atlanta. “People, who do such an impossibly difficult job, have a caring attitude that is infectious and positively impacts their patients. They inspire hope and change families’ lives for the better.”

His wife never got to see the gate. Mary died July 24, 2021, due to medical complications shortly after being discharged from Shepherd. She was 52 years old.

Eric, however, never wavered in giving his gift to the hospital.

The gate is along Peachtree Road at the entrance to the Anna and Hays Mershon Secret Garden, an outdoor area on the Shepherd campus that has long been a place of respite for patients and their families.

“It’s really very cool and very touching,” said Shepherd Center Chief Operating Officer Jamie Shepherd of the gate. “It looks beautiful, and when folks understand the story behind it, that makes it even more special.”

The ornate gate is tall and big and includes intricate details unique to the Buskos, such as 22 cardinals representing the couple’s 22 years of marriage. Each bird has an uplifting word or Bible verse stamped on it.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

“My wife was a big fan of rocks that have words etched into them, inspirational words. She loved those little messages,” Eric said.

Mary was a prolific note writer and also loved music, so Eric included a treble clef in the design to give the gate a musical tone. And he added four oak limbs with leaves to give a sense of movement and blend with the garden’s oak trees.

Some other sentimental messages are: “You are my sunshine” and “Meric,” a combination of their names given by the pastor who married them.

Atlanta metalsmith sculptor Andrew Crawford created the gate. Crawford, whose garden gates, sculptures, and other works of art beautify many pockets of Atlanta, has worked with Eric to create many of the Buskos other anniversary gifts.

The gate is functional but secured at the much-used Secret Garden. The area is used for various therapies, recreational activities, cookouts, and celebrations. It has been the site of proms and homecomings for adolescent patients and wedding venues for past and present patients.

The tall oaks and beautiful artwork scattered around the property brought comfort and healing to Mary, said Eric. He said his wife loved the outdoors and loved being in the Secret Garden.

“When we were given the green light to go, we spent a lot of time there,” he said.

Mary was a patient during COVID-19 when visitations were limited. Because of the restrictions, it was common to see families and friends lined up along Peachtree Road and talking to their loved ones through the fence at the outdoor garden.

Eric’s original plan was to have the gate installed before the couple’s 22nd anniversary on Aug. 7, 2021. He planned how he would surprise his wife by having them walk outside the facility along the Peachtree Road fence, then seemingly stumble upon the iron gate and dedication plaque to Shepherd’s employees for their “unsurpassed care, love, and hope.”

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Instead, the gate went in on the first week of October 2022 and was dedicated on Oct. 14.

Jamie Shepherd said the hospital has always considered patients and their loved ones as part of one big family and is honored to receive a gift that has so much meaning to the Busko family.

Eric said his wife was a people person and loved helping others. After working in the corporate world, she came home to raise their two daughters. She loved being a mom and volunteered for everything, he said.

“So much of what this gate will bring out is Mary. It just represents Mary so well, what she gives to people,” he said. “What a wonderful light she was in this world.”


MORE DETAILS

The Secret Garden gate can be viewed along Peachtree Road at the Shepherd Center, 2020 Peachtree Road NW, Atlanta.