Waukegan program plants trees in memory of crime victims; ‘We’re doing this to support families and help them heal’ – Chicago Tribune


Several clusters of trees will soon sprout in a number of Waukegan parks to commemorate those killed in violent crime.

The Waukegan Park District is launching its Tree of Life initiative to allow families or friends of people killed in a violent crime to plant a memorial tree at a Waukegan park in recognition of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which ends Saturday can plant on the victim.

With a $20,000 grant from the Crime Victims’ Service Fund of the 19th Judicial Circuit Court in Waukegan, Park District planning services manager Tim Girmscheid said there is no cost to people applying for tree planting.

“We see this as a way to honor a person who has died as a result of a violent crime,” he said. “It can be in any park that needs trees, which most of them are.”

Though people can request tree planting any time of the year, Girmscheid said the planting will take place in May or September, which is the ideal time to plant trees in the ground to allow for adequate growth.

Girmscheid said anyone who would like a tree to commemorate a crime victim can fill out the required form on the Park District’s website. The cast bronze plaque on an original concrete block at the base of the tree reads “In Memory of” and the person’s name.

Lake County Court Public Information Officer Kasey Morgan said the Crime Victims’ Services Fund was established in late 2009 to provide support to crime victims and their families.

Morgan said $2 a month will be deducted from the probation fees that people convicted of felonies have to pay while they remain on probation. The period can average five years.

Because the fund has been growing for more than 10 years, Morgan said court officials felt there was a sufficient amount over the past year to let the community know that grants are available for organizations that want to do something to help crime victims or to help their families.

When the grant opportunity became available, Quincy Bejster, the Park District’s director of parks, said officials began discussing ways to make a difference and potentially help people heal the loss of a loved one to crime.

“We discussed how we might use the funds and came up with the idea of ​​planting trees,” he said. “We found a way to do that. We do this to support families and help them heal. It will be a place where they can remember someone they loved.”

“It’s a chance to be part of a family’s healing process,” Girmscheid added.

With an average cost of $700 to acquire and plant a tree that’s already 6 to 10 feet tall, Girmscheid said about 30 trees will be funded. One was reserved last summer and planted in Bevier Park in the fall in memory of a murder victim.

Once the 30 trees are planted, Bejster expects the program to continue with a different funding source so people can continue to find a way to remember a loved one.

“We would look for outside funding or review our budget to make it happen,” he said.

Those making a request have some decisions to make. Girmscheid said people are given a choice of parks because there may be a specific place that is meaningful to them or the person whose memory they are honoring.

Girmscheid said once the tree is planted, it will be noticeable. Contestants can choose a long shade tree that will be seven to ten feet tall when it goes into the ground, or an ornamental tree that will grow six to eight feet tall.