Woman Sees Dream Of Victims' Memorial Garden Grow


February 23, 1992|By Dolly Merritt

Chari Stoesser's nightmare began in February 1987 when she learned that her daughter had been seriously injured by a drunken driver. But her daughter's lengthy hospitalization and recovery, and the emotional struggles that followed, have produced a dream.

It's about a quiet place with flowers, trees and a stream, where crime victims and their families can find solace.

In May, her dream may become reality. That is when construction is expected to begin on a 20-acre memorial, to be called Serenity Garden, in Rockburn Park in Ellicott City. Pending final approval by the county, the garden will serve as a memorial to victims of drunken driving and violent crime -- the groundbreaking is set to coincide with National Victims Rights Week. Five acres of the park have been adopted by the Howard County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Stoesser, of Columbia, is an activist with MADD and has listened to many people struggling to cope with the sudden and senseless death or injury of a loved one. She believes that the garden will be a perfect place to heal.

"We all grieve and survive in different ways," saidStoesser. "Some people who grieve are productive, some are reclusive, some people have no tolerance for involvement in any kind of organization that will remind them of their tragedy. And others cannot benefit from even the simplistic idea of a garden.

"But there are somewho will get a tremendous pleasure out of seeing things grow and canexperience the healing pleasures of nature," she said.

Jeff Bourne, director of the county Recreation and Parks Department, said the county park also benefits from the arrangement.

"Foundations have an active fund-raising arm to help support improvements in the park," he said. "We don't have the kind of staff to muster that kind of thing.

"It gives the public a chance at greater participation with thepark," he said.

The idea started with a tree.

Stoesser wanted to plant one in memory of a teen-ager who died in a collision with a drunken driver. But the youth's family, instead, suggested a grove oftrees on behalf of all victims of drunken driving and of violent crime.

So last July, Stoesser inquired with the county about plantinga grove of trees. When she met with Bureau of Parks Chief Morgan Amaimo and Regional Parks Supervisor Chuck Fouke, the three did some brainstorming. The result was the idea for a memorial garden.

A finalagreement on the plan is expected this spring, and Stoesser. She is banking on the community to volunteer work and dollars to help get the garden growing.

Her initial contacts have had a domino-like effect with other people and businesses eager to donate their expertise. With such cooperation, she says she can't help but continue to dream.

Local architects, including a landscape architect, are at work onthe design, and an engineering firm also is donating its time. Landscaping companies and nurseries will donate plant material, Stoesser said.

The design includes an area called Meditation Overlook, an elevated woodsy spot overlooking a stream, and a theme flower garden representing peace, hope, remembrance and tranquillity.

Stoesser's wish list includes everything from mulch for the garden to trees for the memorial grove. Benches, a gazebo, carpentry materials and even trucks for hauling are needed. And she hopes to install a sculpture anda plaque, which would list the names of county residents killed by drunken drivers.

She hopes to involve church groups to oversee the landscaping details, Boy Scouts interested in getting credit toward their Eagle Scout designation, and garden clubs to do some planting.

She also hopes other groups will start their own gardens within the20-acre Serenity Garden.

"Maybe (through sharing the garden space) we can benefit from each other's energy and resources to help the victims' rights movements," Stoesser said.

Meanwhile, she is focusing on getting the garden started as quickly as possible, a project that some consider to be a five-year undertaking, she said.

"A greatserenity can come with healing when you come to terms with whatever tragedy has come upon you," Stoesser said. "Maybe people will find a peace in this garden and experience a serenity that they never had before."

Lucy Evers, a Highland resident whose 22-year-old son, Nicky, was killed by a drunken driver in 1986, agrees. But she believes the garden will have broader appeal.

"All of us need to get away from a world of stress and business for whatever reason," she said. "Weneed to get back to the basics and be thankful for what we have."

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