Wareham honors lost loved ones through new holiday tradition

Dec 22, 2021

For the past month, a dazzling array of thoughtfully decorated Christmas trees have caught the attention of anyone walking downtown or driving along Main Street near the Narrows Bridge.

The Remembrance Trees — Town Administrator Derek Sullivan’s newest holiday initiative — were set up by hardworking Municipal Maintenance staff members in late November. 

More than 70 Christmas trees illuminated with strings of lights now line the sidewalks at Besse Park, and the program has proved to be a big hit with Wareham residents. 

Sullivan said the program had seen significant success.

All in all, the trees — which people could sponsor and decorate in memory of a loved one by making a $25 donation — raised a total of $2,440 for the Family Pantry at Damien’s Place.

Sullivan noted that at $25 per tree with 73 trees available, the fundraiser should have raised $1,825. 

“This was truly a community event,” Sullivan said. “From the residents who often gave beyond the suggested $25 donation, to the staff at Municipal Maintenance who worked so hard to put the site together with care, to Olson’s Garden Center, who provided the trees at cost, to Southcoast Health, who paid for the trees so that all money raised would support Damien’s Place and our most vulnerable residents.”

He praised residents for their support and for being so willing to donate to the local food pantry. 

Damien’s Place Executive Director Jackie Arsenault thanked Municipal Maintenance for all the hard work and the community for its generosity in sponsoring the trees. Arsenault said that the pantry, located on Cranberry Highway in East Wareham, is serving an unprecedented number of families this holiday season.

Sullivan added that he has already received ideas from excited residents as to how to expand the program for future years.

“One thing is for certain,” Sullivan said. “This town has no peer when it comes to caring and generosity. From the Town of Wareham, happy holidays, merry Christmas, and peace onto you and your loved ones.”

Remembrance Tree stories 

Wareham Week asked families to share stories about who they decorated a tree for and why they chose the decorations they did.

The Fondulis family decorated a tree in honor of George Fondulis, who passed away in July 2021. 

“George loved his family and the holidays spent with his family,” the Fondulis family said. “He was an amazing husband, dad, brother, uncle and Papou to his five grandsons.” 

The family members who could join in gathered together to decorate George’s tree in Besse Park “as the snow fell.”

“It was so peaceful and filled us with such joy at such a sad time,” the family said. 

The family thanked the town for the program, saying they loved the idea of the trees.

The Decas family — including Kiki, Dean, Missy, Mallory and Cameron Decas, and Wayne and Lisa Decas-Jacques — sponsored a tree in honor of John A. Decas, who once owned and operated the Decas Variety Store in downtown Wareham. 

“We absolutely love this new program and would definitely like to see it continue in years to come,” said Lisa Decas-Jacques. 

The Vicinos sponsored a tree in memory of six family members: James J. Vicino Sr., Rose T. Vicino, James J. Vicino Jr., Frances M. Vicino, Robert J. Vicino and James “Scott” Vicino. 

“When I read the article in the paper about the Remembrance Trees, my first thought was, ‘This is the best idea!’” said Theresa (Vicino) O’Mahony. “Christmas is such a hard time for so many families with loved ones that have passed away, especially those that have passed around Christmas.”

O’Mahony explained that both her mother and father had passed away just days after the holiday. 

“This is a perfect fundraiser and really brings back the meaning of the holidays: Cherish what you have and give to those that need help,” O’Mahony said. “My parents were both very involved in the community and were passionate about Damien’s Food Pantry as well.” 

She explained that the Vicino family opted to sponsor just one tree to honor all of their lost family members so that others who “wanted to sponsor a tree wouldn’t be left out,” as there were only 73 trees available. 

“I hope this will be a new tradition for Wareham,” O’Mahony said.

Tracey Gast sponsored a tree in honor of her grandmother, Frances Anderson, who lived in Onset.  

“She lived in Wareham first, then moved to Onset,” Gast said. “She raised her family there — five children.”

Gast said she and her family members decorated the tree together, using red and silver poinsettias and doves. 

“She loved birds and flowers,” Gast explained. “We also put a few presents under the tree.”

They placed an angel atop the tree because that was tradition in Anderson’s home. Anderson was religious, and Christmas was her favorite holiday, Gast said. 

Gast said she hoped the Remembrance Tree program would continue in the future — with even more advertising. 

“Lots of people stopped and asked me about the trees while we were decorating our tree,” she said, explaining that people wanted to know how they could sponsor one themselves.

The Schluter family decorated a tree in memory of Marc Schluter, who died “in a black ice car accident on December 23, 1992,” Scott Schluter explained. Wareham residents might remember Marc Schluter and his family from a pay-it-forward campaign that gained momentum in 2012, to celebrate his life 20 years after the accident.

“Marc's tree is covered in angels representing Marc’s Angels, each with a bell to ring and give new angels their wings,” Scott said. “The topper is a star, representing the star Marc's father lights up every December in remembrance of him.” 

Scott thanked Wareham for providing a “fun way to remember our loved ones.” 

He added: “The Schluters hope this occurs every year!”