A group of women who all experienced the death of a child came together over 13 years ago in Perham to create a place where they could share their grief, and seek out hope and healing. Those founding women are now looking for others to help keep that place, the Angel of Hope Memorial Park, maintained.
The park is located at the corner of 3rd Ave. NE and 6th Ave. NE, across from Crosspoint Alliance Church. The park was dedicated on Sept. 24, 2004.
The idea for an Angel of Hope park comes from the bestselling book "The Christmas Box," by Richard Paul Evans. In the book, a woman mourns the death of her child at the base of an angel statue. After hearing grieving parents were looking for the angel statue, which had once existed but was believed to be destroyed, Evans dedicated a statue Dec. 6, 1994 in Salt Lake City.
Since then, angels have been placed across the country, and one of the first and few in this portion of Minnesota is the one in Perham. The park the angel is placed has been maintained mostly by Brenda Thompson, Kathy Kowitz and Kim Nelson for almost 14 years.
Thompson said the group has devoted a great deal of time to the park and are ready to hand over some of the duties to others interested in the park's future. She said work is ongoing, and as they are aging it's going to take more than a few to keep it going.
"We are trying to retire and looking for people to take it over," Thompson said. "We want to make sure it keeps going."
The city of Perham will assume financial responsibility of the park since approval by the city council at the last regular board meeting, but the regular cleanup and maintenance of the park are duties of volunteers.
The creation of the park started with fundraising and happened very quickly, according to Thompson.
"It was amazing how quickly it came together," Thompson said. Within a couple years, over $100,000 were raised to make the park possible. What started as a grassy corner lot turned into a manicured memorial, which draws people from all over the region looking for a peaceful place to stop and remember children who've died. People are invited to visit the site and place a white flower at the base of the angel.
The park's dedication ceremony brought out over 400 people, and the annual candlelight vigil continues to bring out crowds at 7 p.m. every Dec. 6.
Thompson said the park is a common place for visitors to stop. Many who live in the region part time may be too far away from the cemetery where a child was buried, so visiting this site or one of the many other sites can help fill that void.
"It was very healing for all of us," Thompson said of the addition of the park in Perham. She lost her daughter in a car accident 16 years ago.
Kim Nelson remembers hearing about the work Thompson and Kowitz were doing on the park and felt sad for the pain they were enduring.
"Then in the blink of an eye, I was among them when we lost my son," Nelson said. "I then became very aware of their cause and of the park. They invited me into their group and became my friends and a very strong support at a time when I needed them."
But over the course of 14 years, the women are at a different season in life and need others to take on the regular duties.
"I think we all have ways of dealing with our losses, and for a time the park was that for each of us, but as time goes we find other ways," Nelson said. "I feel now the park is there for many families, and those of us on the committee would like to step down and hand it over.
"Like everything, there are stages to what we need in life. I am ready to retire and hopefully just be able to have the park to go to when I have the need to be there. It used to be very often, but as time goes on I find other places are comforting and peaceful as well. That's just how it goes."
Because of Thompson's work in Perham, she became a point of contact across the state by other cities looking to have an angel of hope. She said the work of helping others in their time of grief has helped her take her mind off her own grief.
"I think we have touched a lot of people," Thompson said.
Nelson agreed that it continues to be an important place for her and others visiting.
"It played a very important part in my grief process because I know when folks, for the first visit or the 100th visit, may see my son's name on the wall, they will remember him or know of him," Nelson said. "That is what we, as bereaved parents, cherish—honoring and remembering our kids."
While there are many names in the park, blocks are available for purchase to add more names. Thompson hopes it takes a very long time before another wall needs to be added for more names. New memory blocks are added to the walls at the park every spring and fall.
Brochures about the park are available at the Perham Area Chamber of Commerce, or from anyone on the Angel of Hope committee. An order form for a memory block is on the brochure. The cost of a memory block is $200. Each block includes three lines of information.
For more information, contact Brenda Thompson at 218-758-3083 (gertz56@ hotmail.com), Kathy Kowitz at 218-346-4497, Kim Nelson at 218-367-3117, or Liz Lange at 218-371-1442 (email@example.com).
Memory Block order forms and any donations may be sent to Angel of Hope, P.O. Box 164, Perham, MN 56573.