When Nevada Union High School teacher and coach Craig Zetterberg passed away from a heart attack last March, then senior Cole Castleberry decided that Zetterberg, known to his students as “Zeus,” deserved a fixture at the school to preserve his legacy.
Castleberry, who had already planned to fold 1,000 origami paper cranes for his senior project, began collecting paper messages to Zetterberg from students, friends and colleagues to use for each crane.
“I went to all the NU partnership classes for kids who had him for history and I generally collected messages from everyone I could,” Castleberry said. “I felt that he was a really, really amazing guy and he deserved to be honored at NU, where he’d changed so many lives.”
More than five months after Zetterberg passed, Castleberry, now a freshman at the University of California, Merced, has completed folding all 1,000 paper cranes and has recently attached them to the ceiling entrance of NU’s library where they hang from five separate wires, as a sculpture in remembrance of the teacher who was loved by many.
“It’s beautiful, and it reminds us of Craig and it is a tribute to him,” NU Principal Dan Frisella said. “Cole folded every single one of them himself, and all of our staff that’s seen it has been incredibly moved. It brought me to tears the first time I saw it. It’s just beautiful.”
As a member of NU’s swimming and water polo team, Castleberry’s initial senior project was to fold the paper cranes and have people write a wish on each one of what they wanted their lives to be.
But when Zetterberg, an NU history teacher and girl’s water polo coach, had a heart attack while on a bike trail with his students, Castleberry decided to dedicate his project to the teacher whom he considered a friend and mentor.
“We were really close,” Castleberry said. “I was always at the pool and we’d talk a bit and my sister started playing water polo, so I was always at games, and I actually helped coach once. Then sophomore year I had him for world history and he was an amazing teacher.”
The act of folding 1,000 origami paper cranes is an ancient Japanese tradition that promises good luck or a wish to the individual who folds them all. But for Castleberry, folding each crane was a form of emotional support.
“For those of us who were fortunate enough to know Craig Zetterberg, having Cole do this was really touching,” Castleberry’s mother and Nevada City School District board member Nieret Mizushima said. “If you’ve ever participated in folding 1,000 cranes, granted Cole was trying to do it all himself, but the act of folding the cranes when you have somebody in mind, it’s therapeutic. You feel like you’re doing something to appease the pain, or move on, or find closure.”
Last spring, Castleberry presented his senior project, writing about the impact a single person can have on so many different people. The cranes he folded with the written messages and memories of Zetterberg have become a physical representation of Castleberry’s project, and proof that Zetterberg affected so many lives before he died.
“They all loved it, they were super surprised, they thought it was amazing,” Castleberry said. “I didn’t realize this but there was a big staff meeting the day I finished putting it up and people were showing it off to others, so generally its been really positive.”
NU librarian Jill Sonnenberg said Castleberry’s tribute will remain a permanent fixture in the school’s library.
“It makes our lives much better, it is a jewel and it’s life-changing. We’re never taking that down,” Sonnenberg said. “It beautifies the building and obviously it memorializes one of our best friends. Craig was everybody’s best friend.”
After Zetterberg’s passing, the Nevada Joint Union School District approved to name NU’s pool after him. Mizushima says the cranes are another way to remind people of what kind of impact Zetterberg had on the school.
“Being on display and further carrying on that impact and that legacy is really stunning and spectacular,” Mizushima said. “I’m really pleased that that’s the life its taken on and continued to take the energy that Craig Zetterberg put into everybody that surrounded him, and it just continues on.”
Castleberry said reading each message and folding each crane was very emotional for him, but it allowed him to remember Zetterberg whom he says will always be a part of his life.
“It made me feel really great knowing that I had contributed something permanent to the school in honor of Mr. Zetterberg,” Castleberry said. “I’ll always remember him, he was a really amazing guy who affected my life. Even though he’s not here, I’m still trying to make him proud.”
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.