A Season of Thanks
These are the stories of three Park lovers who have given the gift of a commemorative tree in Prospect Park. Photo essay by Virginia Freire.
Lois’s daughter, Jennifer Nicole, was a beacon of light and hope. She grew up in Brooklyn, and her life as a child revolved around Prospect Park. When she passed away in the fall of 2014 while a 21-year-old college senior, Lois wanted to find a way to celebrate and spread the love of her daughter, who had lived such a full life.
Lois connected with the Prospect Park Alliance to find the perfect tree and location to honor her daughter. Planted on a hill near the Picnic House, Jennifer’s tree provides a panoramic view of the Long Meadow. “Everyone can see this special tree as they pass through the landscape, and it is in the midst of everything, just like Jennifer. The Princess Dogwood they selected is white, pure and beautiful. When visitors to the Park gaze at this precious tree, they will see the beauty that was Jennifer.”
Jennifer Nicole lived a wonderfully purpose-driven life. She traveled the world, warming the spirits of all those she met, wherever she went. Overlooking the Park’s broad meadows and woodlands, this dogwood provides Lois, Jennifer’s friends and family, and countless other visitors a place to reflect and take comfort in the Park’s tranquility. Since the day its roots took hold, Jennifer’s tree has become a place for loved ones to be with her, and to celebrate her life.
For more than 40 years, Prospect Park has been a central part of Karen’s life. Following the devastating storms of 2012 and 2013 that destroyed more than 300 of the Park’s trees, she was inspired to donate a tree through the Prospect Park Alliance’s Commemorative Giving program in honor of her partner, Marilyn, who is unable to accompany her on her daily walks with their dog, Sadie.
In the fall of 2014, Karen and Marilyn joined Alliance staff in a ceremonial planting of a Bur Oak at “their entrance” on the west side of Grand Army Plaza, an area especially ravaged by the storms. The gift continues to grow with Marilyn’s friends and family planting additional trees, as well as a carpet of perennials, fulfilling the Alliance’s chief landscape architect Christian Zimmerman’s vision for this landscape.
The Alliance’s Commemorative Giving program is accessible, fun and fosters a lasting sense of connection with the Park.
When Karen, Sadie and their fellow walkers stroll through the Park each morning, they marvel at the budding forest they helped revive, and think of Marilyn.
“The skinny trunk of the Bur Oak will grow, along with the other trees we have planted, and continue to be a gem for future generations,” beams Karen. “The experience has deepened the connections we have with each other, our friends, the Park and the people in the Park.”
As the tenth anniversary of her mother’s passing approached, Marie wanted to do something special to celebrate the life of this strong, powerful and determined woman. An immigrant from Haiti, her mother Bernadette, or “Bernie,” raised three children in the face of significant challenges. When the next generation arrived, Bernie enjoyed a very close relationship with Marie’s son Kenny as well.
After much consideration, Marie decided that planting a flowering tree in Prospect Park would perfectly celebrate Bernie’s life. The Park holds many memories of Bernie as a place of birthday parties, games of charades and gatherings with friends and family. Marie collaborated with Alliance staff, who with sensitivity and warmth helped identify the perfect location for Bernie’s tree. Just a block and a half from Marie’s front door, the Brooklyn Magnolia honoring her mother looks out over Nellie’s Lawn on the eastern edge of Long Meadow.
The tree’s spot within Prospect Park “feels good and peaceful” to Kenny and Marie. Their magnolia is accessible to their family, but also contributes to the Park’s beauty for all to enjoy. It offers a calming and consistent presence in the middle of Brooklyn’s Backyard.
2015 marks a decade since Bernie’s passing, and the magnolia has become a central part of honoring the life of a remarkable mother, grandmother and friend. The slope on which the magnolia sits has become a sacred place, “Bernie’s Hill,” where friends and family congregate to find joy and comfort and to celebrate Bernie’s life.