By Lyra Bordelon
Although 2020 has been a difficult year for many, it’s also a significant milestone for the Greenbrier Valley Angel Tree. This year marks the tree’s tenth anniversary- ten years of commemorating loved ones lost in the Greenbrier Valley community and beyond.
Now located in the Greenbrier Valley Airport, the tree offers free ornaments to write on, memorializing a passed friend or family member, collecting their memories. Then, the day after Christmas, a candlelight vigil is held, giving those left behind a place to share their memories. Coordinator Roger Honaker has been part of the memorial each year, keeping it stocked with fresh, new ornaments for anyone to use.
“It originally came about because a baby had passed away,” explained Honaker. “[Hunter Meadows] was 23 days old when his dad murdered him. [The dad is] in prison. [Hunter] is on the tree every year. … Then another little boy passed away, and another took his life, an 18 year old. Someone said we should hang an ornament on our trees for everybody, in honor of those kids that died.”
From there, the first Angel Tree saw life in the Greenbrier Valley Mall, growing from 20 or 30 ornaments 10 years ago to last year’s tree, which held over 400 memorial ornaments. Through the past several years, Larry Patton, manager of the Greenbrier Valley Mall, has donated the tree, growing from a four-foot tree to an over nine-foot tall tree this year.
“It may not look like it now, but [the number of ornaments will] grow really fast,” Honaker said. “I have people bring me stuff, or call me, or send me a message that don’t live here and I’ll hang an ornament for them.”
Although the Angel Tree typically makes its home in the Greenbrier Valley Mall, this year the reduced foot traffic led Honaker to seek out a new location. After getting permission from the Greenbrier Valley Airport, the tree has found its current, COVID-era home. Honaker specified that it was free of charge and open to all, even if they’re just visiting the area.
“There will be ornaments there all of the time for anyone to use if they don’t have their own,” Honaker said. “If someone comes to the airport, sees the tree, and they don’t have an ornament, they can use one.”
Each year, a candlelight service is held before the tree on the day after Christmas, with a few speakers honoring those memorialized on the Angel Tree. This year, Kenny Baker and Joey Terri will speak before opening up the floor to anyone that wants to share their stories.
“I love doing it. It’s sad that it does fill up but you want people to be remembered, to honor them. When you come to the candlelight service, everyone’s given an opportunity to speak and it’s pretty neat to hear the stories. There’s a lot of tears, a lot of hugs. They tell stories, their memories, what happened.”
Last year, a large crowd turned out to remember their lost loved ones – this year the ceremony is planned for December 26, at 6:30 p.m.
“Last year’s candlelight vigil was really good, I don’t know how it will be this year because of COVID,” Honaker said. “I think it’ll be good.”
Honaker encouraged anyone who wanted to remember someone dear to them to visit the tree and hang an ornament, or to contact him to have one placed in their honor. Those looking to keep up with the tree’s progress can find it on Facebook as “Greenbrier Valley Angel Tree.”
“That’s not my tree,” Honaker said. “ I put it up every year but it’s not my tree, it’s their tree.”