In 1994, the book “The Christmas Box” by Richard Paul Evans, was found in many Christmas stockings across America. The story tells of a mother grieving her child at the base of an angel monument. This powerful scene was the spark that began an international network of memorial parks designed to provide a place of comfort and hope to parents and family members who grieve the loss of a child.
The common element of all the parks is a bronze cast angel with uplifted wings sculptured originally by artist, Ortho Fairbanks. The word “Hope” is always inscribed on the angel’s right wing.  There are over 100 such parks in existence today. The first one was dedicated on Dec. 6, 1994, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Minnesota has four Angel of Hope Memorial Parks. They are located in Perham, Maple Grove, Grand Rapids, and Wilmar/Spicer. Fergus Falls is in the process of establishing their own park with construction hopefully to begin this summer. Sandi and Tim Kenyon of Fergus Falls lost their son, Tim, Jr., in June, 2005. He was 41 years old and the eldest of their six children. “There is no tragedy in life like the death of your child,” responded Sandi in the telling of this story. “You never expect your child to die before you.” The grief-stricken couple did not want to forget their son’s memory. On Dec. 6, 2005, they were invited to a candle light service at the Angel of Hope Park in Perham, MN. The speaker at the service had lost three sons. It was this event that sparked an idea of a similar park in Fergus Falls. There were five people at their first meeting in February 2010. Soon others families who had lost children joined and a committee was formed. It included Tim and Sandi, Bethany Wiese, Julie Nelson, Connie Hart-King, Judy Schoon,  and Betty and Allen Schroeder.    Judy lost her son, Scott, 38, in 2006. He died of a progressive disease called silicosis. “As a mom, I wanted to make things better. I wanted to see him carry his golf clubs out the door or head to the lake for some ice fishing and watch him throw a tennis ball to his constant companion, Maddy.” Judy said she is honored to serve on the park committee. “I had no idea there were so many of us. We will see this dream come true. There will be a quiet place to remember, reflect, smile or shed a tear.” Allen and Betty’s daughter, Nancy Tungseth, passed away at age 36 from complications of cancer and West Nile disease. She left behind her husband, John, and daughter, Lexi. “Nancy’s motto in life was ‘dedicated to serve,’” said her parents. “We want to thank the City of Fergus Falls for allowing us to proceed with the plans for this park.”        As the interest in the project grew, the group needed to find a site for the park. They met with the Fergus Falls City Council and the Park Board. “Parks and Recreation Manager, Steve Plaza, was very helpful in the selection process,” said Sandi. “We had looked at a spot in Adam’s Park (formerly Grotto Park) in Fergus Falls by the otter statue. And Steve suggested that very site. We knew that was the one.” The Kenyon’s son-in-law, John Enloe, of Firm Two Architecture in Minneapolis, donated his time to design the park. The next step would be raising funds for the $90,000-$100,000 project. And the financial support started trickling in. “We have raised over $50,000,” said Tim. “The money has come from private donations, corporate donations, pledges, a silent auction, a bake sale, and a fund raiser at the VFW. In December we showed the movie “The Christmas Box.” On March 12, we plan to have a breakfast at Applebees.” The “Heaven Bound Trio” from Parkers Prairie has volunteered to do a gospel concert in Fergus on April 16 at the Church of the Nazarene. All the proceeds will go to the park. One of the trio members, Kelly Martin, lost her eleven year old son Charlie in 2007. Kelly wrote a special song for him entitled “Dance In The Rain.” Sandi listens to the lyrics of the song. “When you feel life can’t get much worse, and your heart is full of pain; it’s not how you survive the storm, but how you dance in the rain.” Memorial orders have come from as far away as Ohio and as close as Battle Lake, Dalton, Pelican Rapids and Evansville. Tim added that all donations are tax deductible and can be sent to: West Central Initiative; 1000 Western Ave.; Fergus Falls, MN 56537. The cost of a memorial is $125. “This park isn’t just for Fergus Falls,” Tim emphasized. “We want everyone to feel a part of it. We want some place for families to visit their loved ones other than a cemetery.”