When Sarah Elrod-Ausbrook began decorating the tree outside her house last holiday season, she never dreamed it would become so popular.
“There were over a hundred ornaments on it,” she said. “I thought about using a second tree. It was gigantic, and it was full.”
Elrod-Ausbrook used this tree to hang special ornaments for a very specific reason — to remember those who had passed away. After hanging up her own ornaments, she shared with others what she was doing, and the word spread fast. Soon, special ornaments and bulbs were being dropped off at her house to be hung on the tree.
“I even got some from Arizona and Wyoming. Family members in Daviess County told them, so they sent them to me,” she said.
Instead of using a second tree at her own house, Kip Kelley, superintendent for the Washington Parks and Recreation Department, offered one of the trees at Eastside Park to become what is now called the Celebration of Life Tree.
“It’s at the bottom of the hill on the left side,” Elrod-Ausbrook said. “There’s no sign yet, but we’re looking into getting one made.”
Anyone is welcome to hang their ornaments on the Celebration of Life Tree in remembrance of loved ones they have lost.
“I’m still getting bulbs dropped off at my house today, which is fine,” Elrod-Ausbrook said. “I get them sent to me. One lady who had lost three of her children sent me three ornaments, and another, who didn’t have the means to send me one, asked if we’d make one up for her, and we did.”
“For so many people, the holidays are a special time, but it’s hard for a lot of people when you’ve lost someone. They don’t want to feel like their loved ones are left out,” she said. She also explained that any ornaments that were sent to her last year will be hung on the Celebration of Life Tree at the park.
The idea to move the Celebration of Life Tree to the park started early. Elrod-Ausbrook and Kelley began talking about it in early September.
“She came to us last year, but it was a little late in the game,” said Kelley. “But this year we found her a tree; it’s a big evergreen tree. It’s the only tree that has lights 24/7, so it’s lit up all the time.”
Having a big tree in the park for anyone to view and hang their own ornaments on was a special thing for Elrod-Ausbrook.
“There is something very special about living in a community of our size,” she said. “The community is always so willing to come together.”