Vandalism prompts community outpouring

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Destroyed memorial tree sprouts into an entire garden

Life lost a lot of its meaning for Heather and Jerry Peddle when their only child died three years ago.

Their feelings of devastation were compounded in January when vandals broke a memorial tree planted in their son’s honour in front of his former school. Their sorrow prompted a strong community reaction and now the couple is ready to unveil a new and bigger memorial park.

“It’s exciting that now it’s just not a broken little tree. It’s something more substantial,” Heather said. “[We’re] just very, very grateful that so many people were generous.”

Located on the front lawn of J.J. Nearing elementary school, the new park is teeming with about two dozen new trees, shrubs and plants provided by volunteers who were moved to action by a letter Heather published in the Gazette in January.

Among the generous were two landscaping companies that donated products and services. Newman Theological College also donated trees, flagstone and boulders from its decommissioned site adjacent to the new Anthony Henday Drive that’s under construction. About 30 people volunteered at a weekend planting blitz May 23 and 24.

“It was really nice to see the community come together,” said Scott Johnston, the school’s principal. “Mathew was an only child so obviously it meant a lot for this family to have it rebuilt.”

Mathew was a special needs boy who died from flu complications at the age of seven. A classmate donated a blue spruce of Mathew’s height so his parents would have something to watch grow up. Mathew’s former class planted the tree outside its Grade 1 window in June 2006, three months after his death.

The couple lost the special monument one Saturday night in January when a group of vandals reduced the chest-high tree to a foot-tall stump.

“It was devastating. Whenever I was missing him I would come over here and sit on the bench, hang out. Felt closer to him,” Jerry said. “They took away the solace that I found when I was here.”

A friend of Mathew’s, who lives across the street from the school, told the couple that she watched from her bedroom window as two teens bent and jumped on the tree until it broke. Three other teens watched nearby.

“You just can’t understand why somebody would do that,” Heather said. “That was pretty heartbreaking.”

The original tree is now just a stump with a few low branches, but it’s still green and alive. The couple has decided to leave it alone in the hope that, if it can’t grow up, it can grow out.

“We’re hoping for good things, that it survives and thrives,” Jerry said.

Mathew’s former classmates, now in Grade 4, will officially dedicate the new park Wednesday at 2:45 p.m.

The new park’s conception and design included three other families who have lost children. This element has added to the park’s significance, Jerry said, but the lovely park can’t quite provide the special connection he had with Mathew’s tree.

“It’s got a different significance now,” Jerry said. “Before, it was just for [Mathew], now it’s for other people.

“I suppose it’s good in a sense [but]in a very real sense I’ve lost something that I had.”

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St. Albert Gazette

The St. Albert Gazette has been the source for news and community information in St. Albert and area since 1961. Today the twice-weekly full-colour tabloid delivers award-winning journalism in print, online and on mobile.