Tree’s sad list grows to 103 |

Tree’s sad list grows to 103

Christina Proctor

Every year Sue Hrbacek remembers, and she’s not alone.

“It’s what has made the difference for me,” Hrbacek said. “The contact with the other families.”

When Hrbacek’s son, Rory, was killed in an car accident in 1991, along with two other South Lake Tahoe teen-agers, Sandy Haynes and Casey Wells, she and her husband sought for a way to deal with their grief. Their solution turned into the Children’s Memorial. The tree the car struck off of Pioneer Trail became a monument.

On Saturday, people gathered at the tree that now bears the names of 103 children.

“The purpose of the memorial is to bring people together,” Hrbacek said. “It’s gone so much farther than South Lake Tahoe.”

Hrbacek said the memorial, which is located in the Wildwood Retention Basin on U.S. Highway 50, was originally thought to be just for young children. The idea has grown to include adults because, as Hrbacek put it, they are all children, and no one can differentiate between the sense of loss felt by a parent, whether they are 20 or in their 70s.

The families that memorialize their children are not just locals. Names also represent families that made South Lake Tahoe their vacation home or are connected in other ways. A family from England remembered their child, who died in a chair lift accident at a local ski resort, with a bronze nameplate.

“Even though there’s 103 names on the tree, they’re not the only ones we’re remembering,” Hrbacek said. “There are also families that come that for one reason or another have chosen not to place their children’s names on the tree.”

During the ceremony people took turns remembering their loved ones, and at one point 30 doves were released. The doves are trained to return to their roost in Reno, Hrbacek said.

“There were a lot of tears and a lot of chances to chuckle and laugh,” Hrbacek said.

Hrbacek said this ceremony was taped and available for families who couldn’t attend. She has also been approached by a production company that is interested in possibly making a documentary about the Children’s Memorial.

Anyone who wants more information about the memorial can contact Hrbacek at P.O. Box 10737, South Lake Tahoe, Calif. 96158, (530) 542-1968. Families can also contact The Compassionate Friends, a self-help organization for bereaved families, at (530) 541-0172.

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