Chris Kelsey of Newtown with Jan Hirt and Danbury Township Trustee Dave Hirt with the sign and one of the trees donated by Danbury Township citizens in memory of the 26 people lost at the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting.
It is a quiet little New England town a mile or so off the interstate and just east of Danbury, CT. Jan and I came here to see how the 26 trees that our community donated were doing and to bring the sign "We Will Remember With You" to Newtown. Elizabeth Rallo, the leader of the Newtown Recovery Team, directed us to the Newtown Municipal Center, where we met with Chris Kelsey. He is the tax assessor for Newtown and also on the recovery team, as well the manager of the Toy Warehouse. As the donations came in Chris was in charge of managing them, and, yes, they did need a warehouse. There were 56,784 donations of just Teddy Bears alone.
After a friendly chat at government center, Chris asked if we wanted to go out and see the trees. At this point I hadn't gotten the sign out of the car as I was curious to see where and how it might be placed, depending on where and how the trees were planted. My assumption was that they would be planted in a semi-circle or as a class room setting, or something else creative, but that all of them would be planted in one place.
Chris then told me that they had made good use of our donation, planting them in many locations across town to enhance their parks. This then piqued my interest as I wasn't quite expecting some random planting of our trees across the city of Newtown. That was until I saw the first tree.
As we came down the steps from the government center, Chris pointed across the way to a soccer field and said we could see the first one right from here. The view was profound. I was awestruck and speechless. There on the side of the soccer field stood a single, solitary, 3 foot high blue spruce. Planted at the sideline, it stood there waiting, just as a small child awaiting his turn to get in the game...almost as if he never left. As I mentioned this to Chris, he just looked at me, smiled and said, “Yes, we know.” What he didn’t have to say was that these are the places the kids played and enjoyed themselves and this is how we want them remembered.
We then drove a short distance to Dickinson Park. There they have a skateboard park, a basketball court and walking trails that wind back and forth over a bubbly little creek. Again, the trees they planted there stood out. They were different. The little evergreens were like the kids waiting to fly their kites, or just taking a relaxing break between games. It was the same thing again at Treadwell Park with its tennis courts, swimming pool, and soccer fields, and, of course, more trees.
New England is beautiful this time of year with its trees wearing their fall colors. Temperatures are cool and some trees are even starting to loose their leaves, but not ours. They will continue to wear their green colors and be the symbol of new life and rebirth as they stand sentry over the parks of Newtown. The gift from our community has become much more than a donation or a memorial. It has become 26 separate memorials and more than anything I could have ever imagined Even to the most casual observer, these trees are profoundly different. For the kids, this was their home, this is where they lived, and where they played and enjoyed themselves, and this is how we can remember them.