Tree of Light Ceremonies… A History
Hospice began in the United States around 1974 and a hospice was planned in Clay County Kansas in 1984! Neighbor helping neighbor was a natural fit for the rural mid-west though and the hospice concept fit that bill. The Tree of Light concept began in the mid 1980’s.
Hospice in Clay County began in 1985 after a year of planning and the Tree of Light began in Clay Center in 1990 on the Courthouse Square. Gifts were made in memory of a hospice patient, someone who had passed away or in honor of individuals still living. The hospice staff planned and led the ceremony the first year. It usually involved a local pastor, a group, or someone to provide music, individuals to read the names, and individuals to lead the litany. After the first year, I began recruiting volunteers to help plan, advertise, and be there for the ceremony. There have always been a number of families and individuals who come every year to the lighting. For some it was a Thanksgiving weekend tradition. The sign was erected the first year, and it remained up throughout the holiday season. It was updated each Friday with new names.
When Washington County joined with Clay County in 1990 the hospice became known as Meadowlark Hospice. It seemed important to have a Tree of Light ceremony in their community in a prominent place so that it could be alight, reminding people of their loved ones throughout the season. We used a tree on the Courthouse Square for several years until hospice bought a tree in memory of one of our volunteers, Franklin Lull, who had been influential years before in bringing hospice to Washington County. The county allowed us to plant a scotch pine tree on the Courthouse Square.
In two years, Marshall County joined Meadowlark Hospice and the tradition was begun there. The city allowed us to put a tree on the corner of the railroad care property at the end of Main Street in downtown Marysville. Anita Droll and her husband, Mark, were a great help with the Marysville tree.
Frankfort got active and following two bereavement groups there, there was a core of people who wanted to be volunteers and Charlotte Topel, the volunteer coordinator at the time, worked with them to have a Tree of Light ceremony in the nursing home there. The lighting took place with the residents and community present. The Volunteer Coordinator took over the planning and coordinating of the services with her volunteers in 2000.
When Cloud and Republic counties joined Meadowlark Hospice, the tradition was carried on there. Republic had a Tree of Light ceremony and for the first year the coordinator there helped. The next year a volunteer committee took over. The tree was located inside the Courthouse. Katrina Jones, Hospice social worker, helped with these programs. Cloud County had their tree inside the Courthouse, a committee of volunteers helped with their program.
The coordination of gathering money for gifts, listing the givers and recipients and seeing that the lists were updated every Friday was a huge task, and was coordinated and remains so by Charron Cales.
I always saw the Trees of Light as an opportunity to remember loved ones and acknowledge them at a special time of year. I personally was always touched at the reading of the names and seeing the trees alight throughout the holiday season.
By- Kay Lohmiller