Tree of Angels gives families a way to remember
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PORT LAVACA - Dale James' eyes widened as she looked at the more than 100 angel ornaments packed onto a table at the back of the Bauer Community Center in Port Lavaca.
"Gosh, there are so many," she said softly, her eyes filling up with tears. "I never realized there were so many."
This past August, James' 20-year-old grandson William Ponton died after being stabbed at a party. James had worked for years as a nurse, seeing violent things, but nothing had prepared her or her family for the pain, she said.
"It's different when you're on the other side," she said. Being their first holiday season without Ponton, James said she and her family members decided to attend the event, hoping to get some comfort by honoring him.
James said it helped to be with people who know what she and her family are going through.
On Thursday evening, about 400 people gathered for the ninth annual Tree of Angels ceremony.
Each angel ornament represented a person who had been the victim of a violent crime.
The Tree of Angels ceremony started in Austin in 1991. Port Lavaca resident Mary Sue Woods decided to start the Tree of Angels ceremony in Port Lavaca nine years ago after her son was murdered.
Every holiday season is difficult, Woods said, but it still helps Woods and her husband to have the chance to take a moment to hang an angel on the tree and remember their son.
"We don't want anyone to be forgotten, and this is a way at Christmas time to remember them. Christmas is always a hard time, and it gives us a place to go and honor them," Mary Sue Woods said.
It helps the families deal with missing their loved ones through the holidays, Woods said.
"We feel like it's a way during this time of year to honor our daughter," Mary Sklar said.
Sklar and her husband, Darryl Sklar, have been attending the Tree of Angels ceremony since their 19-year-old daughter, Steffany, was murdered by an ex-boyfriend in February 2002.
The first year was hard, Mary Sklar said, her bright face pulling tight. "It was very emotional," she said. But they have come back every year, hanging the same beaded cowgirl angel that a friend made for them the first year. Mary clutches the picture of her daughter in her right arm, while she and her husband look down at the small beaded angel resting in her left palm.
"You never forget," Darryl Sklar said.
His wife nodded. "No, you never forget them."