URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — When you drive past the corner of Goodwin and Clark, you’ll notice a beautiful small, well-kept garden, but it means so much more to the woman who made it a reality.
“It represents not only remembering this particular young woman and her life,” says Phyllis Williams. “You know, not her death, but her life and her joy. But it also says to students that you can come here and we take care of you.”
Master Gardener Phyllis Williams designed it in honor of Ying Ying Zhang. A U of I student kidnapped and killed back in 2017.
Williams knew she could use her green thumb to honor a life lost too soon.
“Probably one of the most inspiring things you could do to help a community heal from such a tragedy,” says Vanessa Lane.
Over the years, Williams has always found a way to keep busy. And her work doesn’t go unnoticed.
“She takes care of small fruits here at the Idea Garden and she’s always mentoring new Master Gardeners through small fruits and any other place they can work,” says Master Gardener Susan Smith.
Gardening isn’t the only thing that makes her remarkable – she also volunteers with PACA and the Virginia Theater in her spare time.
“We’ve always been fighting to preserve our neighborhood,” says Williams.
Something those living nearby her say doesn’t surprise them.
“On a local level, she’s an RBG,” says Lane. “In my opinion, because she just doesn’t let anything slow her down.”
Williams says she’s always been a go-getter and it’s just a way of life. And she certainly isn’t looking for any recognition.
“My mother raised us to do that,” Williams said. “If you’re depressed, you’re blue, you know – get busy, do something, and you’re gonna feel better. I’m just me doing me and that’s it.”
She also donates to local food shelters regularly. Williams says she would like to start working and volunteering there next.