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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Bill Chittum and Liz Frederick walk past the Holiday Memorial Tree at the Baker Street Train Station after attending the 30th annual Visiting Nurse Holiday Memorial Tree program.

  • Visiting Nurse Chaplain Carolyn Sherrill delivers her message while those in attendance hold candles in memory of their loved ones during the program Sunday at the Baker Street Train Station.

Sunday, November 22, 2015 10:03 pm

Tree's lit for 30th time

Jamie Duffy | The Journal Gazette

Leslie Collier Weirich said she spoke for 12 minutes, but she could have spent two hours talking about Visiting Nurse.

Weirich was a guest speaker at the 30th annual Holiday Memorial Tree Lighting Ceremony at the Baker Street Train Station on Sunday evening.

Around 300 people attended the ceremony, which included lighting and holding a candle in a tulip-shaped holder. The Fort Wayne Children’s Choir sang for the occasion, ending with the carol "Silent Night."

Weirich is one of many whose family members received care from Visiting Nurse, a nonprofit organization with about 150 staff and as many volunteers. Most of the recipients are considered to be at the end of their lives and of those, about 95 percent continue to live at home, said Kris Rajchel, director of communications. Visiting Nurse provides hospice and palliative care and grief support in eight counties, including Allen.

Weirich first learned about Visiting Nurse when her brother, Loren Collier, a judge in Kosciusko County, was diagnosed with a brain tumor at 29. He was told he wouldn’t witness the birth of his second child, but he lived to see her grow to be 5 years old before he died.

"Now he would be a grandfather," Weirich said. "A lot of people don’t know about (this organization,)." Her family returned to Visiting Nurse when her father, Worley Collier, fell ill and died in 2011 and then for her mother, Pauline Collier, who was nursed for 17 months before she died in 2014.

Her family has donated a counseling office at the $4.5 million Community Grief Center located next to the 14-bed Hospice Home on Homestead Road in Fort Wayne.

"We called the Hospice Home the front porch," said Weirich, an Elmhurst High School graduate who grew up in Fort Wayne and now lives in Goshen. "You’d sit on the front porch for a while and then you’d move into heaven."

Phyllis Hermann, Visiting Nurse’s CEO, said the holidays can be a difficult time for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Holding the ceremony just before Thanksgiving gives people a chance to prepare themselves for the upcoming holiday season.

Thirty years ago, the ceremony was held at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, "but we kind of outgrew that space," Hermann said.

The memorial tree lighting is a ceremony that some families attend every year. The list of donors runs into the hundreds of those who pay $25 or more to have a light in the tree represent someone who has died.

The tree sits just outside the train station decorated with thousands of tiny white lights and one gold star in the tree’s center.

The restored waiting room of the Baker Street train station is a good place for the ceremony. "It’s nondenominational," Rajchel said, "but it still has a spiritual feel."  

jduffy@jg.net