Mel and Dianne Blizzard have turned the loss of their only child into a legacy that carries on their son's love for farming.
The couple established a scholarship fund in memory of Nathan A. Blizzard, who died in a car accident on his way to work at a dairy farm nearly seven years ago. He was 20.
The fund has awarded nearly $20,000 in college scholarships to students pursuing careers in agriculture and animal science. The Blizzards will give three more students scholarships at the Carroll County 4-H Fair next month.
"I had no idea of all that Nathan did, until I heard stories from other kids at the fair," said Dianne Blizzard, 49, a registered nurse with the county Health Department. "Those stories do our hearts good. Part of our catharsis is to promote his memory by helping some very deserving kids. At first, most of the kids knew about our son and talked about him. Now they ask us to tell them about him."
The family donated a large portion of the memorials made in their son's name to the Carroll County Agriculture Center, which renamed its multipurpose center the Nathan A. Blizzard Building.
"It is entirely appropriate that Nathan have his name on this building," said Caroline Babylon, a member of the Carroll County Ag Board. "He did much for the fair and for 4-H."
Last week, the state also dedicated a memorial garden to Nathan near Routes 26 and 194 in Frederick County, where he died Dec. 5, 1997.
"Nathan was so productive in his short lifetime," said Mel Blizzard, 51, the commanding officer for Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for the Baltimore County Police Department. "He worked with 4-H and Future Farmers of America. He was really interested in land preservation and dairy farming. His life was cut short and we, his parents, need to continue his dreams."
"Agriculture was in his blood from the time he was really young," said Dianne Blizzard. "He always had a strong love for animals."
Nearly 100 people gathered at Ceresville Mansion in Frederick on June 5 for the dedication of the 70-foot-by-32-foot garden that the state planted and marked with a sign bearing Nathan's name.
"Nathan was an aspiring community leader, and nearly seven years after his death he is still relevant to a roomful of people," said Westminster Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff, who attended the dedication. "When you look at what Mel and Dianne have done under the most tragic circumstances, it is easy to see why such an exceptional young man accomplished so much. These parents absolutely turned a tragedy around."
The most fitting way to preserve Nathan's memory was through the avenues that he had pursued, his parents said. At the time of his death, Nathan was finishing courses at Carroll Community College and planned to transfer to the University of Maryland to study animal science. He had been to orientation and had enrolled in animal science classes.
"Throughout our grief, we tried to steer ourselves in a positive direction that would benefit Nathan's dreams," said Mel Blizzard. "We have created a legacy for our son by doing what he tried to do. He really wanted to live his life in Carroll County and work this farm."
Nathan Blizzard wanted to rename the family farm in Finksburg Misty Meadows Acres, a name that he had printed on a cap that he wore frequently. His father followed through on that wish and placed a sign at the driveway to the farm that reads "Nate's Misty Meadows Acres."
The accident, one of several at the intersection, prompted the state to re-engineer the crossing.
Mel Blizzard became involved in the accident review and in the redesign of the intersection, said Valerie Edgar, spokeswoman for the State Highway Administration. She said the state was receptive to his suggestions.
The family also was the driving force behind the memorial garden, which is part of the state highway's beautification effort, she said.
"The state has really been good to us, actually phenomenal in working with us to eliminate a design problem at the intersection," said Mel Blizzard. "The state also helped us facilitate getting a memorial in Nathan's memory."
The family had initially planted a holly tree at the accident scene, but the garden will be a more visible memorial.
The Nathan A. Blizzard scholarships also have become a source of pride for the family. Applications are available at all county high schools and through the Community Foundation of Carroll County. The deadline is June 30.
Helping Carroll County youths is exactly what their son spent much of his life doing, the Blizzards said.
"The whole point is that Nathan was not any better than anyone else," said Mel Blizzard. "He was just a normal child with dreams, a boy who helped other kids with the example of his values and ethics."
"We think he would appreciate what we have done and that he would be proud of us," his mother said.