A landmark of the Chippewa Valley holiday season now features a tribute to a group of women, an organization and a community coming together to try and heal.
The Irvine Park Welcome Center recently put up a Christmas tree adorned with green ornaments and decorations to commemorate the three local girl scouts and one mother who were killed while volunteering to pick up trash along a highway. In addition to the tree, there is a Dickens Village with various displays honoring the Girl Scouts and addressing the emotions their families and communities are going through.
Mary Brunstad, volunteer for 25 years at Irvine Park, said she and Ellen Yindra felt the need to do something to help the community heal after the devastating car accident.
“The park is where so many people come, they have memories here, so it felt important to do something here,” Brunstad said. “I started with one tree, but it just didn’t have the warmth, so I jumped into my car and got a tree I felt was more fitting for the young ladies. I look at it and it warms my heart, so I hope it has that effect on others, too.”
Mary Birrittella, a Girl Scout Membership Engagement Coordinator, said the display is a sight to behold and a beacon for hope in a time of unexplainable sadness.
“It’s a really beautiful display,” Birrittella said. “It’s going to make a lot of little girls very comforted to see it when they come.”
The project came together quickly, as business such as Department 56 and Vickerman donated ornaments to the Irvine Park Welcome Center and to Girl Scout Troop 3055 directly. In addition to the trees, Dickens Village and ornaments and lights on display through the Irvine Park Welcome Center, another notable aspect of the display is an element community members get to participate with.
Placed just a few feet from the main tree itself, a lineup of pens and pieces of paper lay waiting for members of the Chippewa Valley to write supportive messages for the Girl Scouts on and place on the tree. Every message written will be played a part of the tree, so visitors can read them and find comfort in the words of other community members.
Renee Ericson, a Girl Scout Membership Engagement Coordinator, said the Girl Scouts will continue to persevere through the tragedy in order to continue changing the lives of young women.
“We try and introduce girl scouting to as many girls as we can,” Ericson said. “We believe very strongly in the mission and what it does for girls. It makes them great leaders, it gives them independence and introduces them to opportunities they may not have had previously. The more girls we can get involved, the more lives that can be changed by it.”
Brunstad said Irvine Park has contacted the Girl Scouts and other grieving individuals with an offer to come to the Welcome Center to try and find solace in the display. She said they are dealing with tremendous loss and the community is doing an excellent job in trying to heal each other.
“There are children now whose classmates just aren’t there,” Brunstad said. “So, I hope that when I come down here this tree will be filled with messages of love, support and kindness. Chippewa Falls is such a supportive community, so I know it will be. I’m just overjoyed that people will be able to come and find some healing.”
Those interested in visiting the display at the Irvine Park Welcome Center may visit from 10 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. during the Irvine Park Christmas Village display, or during normal business hours during the week.