Nearly 19 years after it was first dedicated, the Children’s Memorial Tree is once again being unveiled and dedicated to children and adults who have passed away before their parents.
The sculpture, located near Wildwood Avenue and Highway 50, has been re-created by artist Dan Jones. The original log, which was rotting and infested with insects, has been replaced with a replica made of modified cement. The reconstruction has breathed new life into the memorial.
“I always said it takes a community to raise a child. It takes a community to remember a child,” said South Lake Tahoe resident Kenny Curtzwiler, who spearheaded the reconstruction and whose son Kaleb has a plaque on the memorial. “It’s also takes a community to pull something like this off.”
The Children’s Memorial Tree was originally dedicated in 1994. The sculpture, a log levitating log above a granite boulder, breaking free from steel straps, was meant to memorialize Rory Hrbacek, Sandy Haynes and Casey Smith, three young men that died suddenly in a tragic car accident in 1991. Their vehicle hit the very tree that was eventually felled to make the memorial. Their names on cast metal plaques were the first to decorate the log.
“This originally started out with three names, then it went to 30 names,” Curtzweiler said. “Now we’ve got 226 names from different countries and everything.”
Lake Tahoe parents who have lost children and parents who have lost children in the area will attend the re-dedication ceremony on Aug. 9. The family of 8-year-old Michael Roper, who died in a ski accident at a Lake Tahoe resort, will come from England for the event.
“That’s the most important thing is when people come to the tree, they say there is something there,” said Sue Hrbacek, Rory Hrbacek’s mother.”They can be near the log and talk to their children, or be with their children.”
Artist Dan Jones created the original design of the memorial. With the help of many community members, Jones also spent hours replacing the original log with the new concrete form. Though the log itself has changed, the message has stayed the same, Jones said.
“It’s a sad thing, but it’s also a joyous thing,” he said.
A plaque on the log reads, “Say Not In Grief That They Are No More But In Thankfulness That They Were.” The log no longer represents the death of her son, but the strength of the community, Hrbacek said. Curtzweiler agreed.
“This is no longer about my son,” he said. “It’s about the community.”
Curtzweiler hopes that the area surrounding the park can soon be transformed into a memorial park with a walkway and benches and more room for names.
“We don’t really want to say no to someone who has a tie to South Lake Tahoe,” Curtzweiler said.