My name is Lisa Biakanja and I am the Project Coordinator for the Angel of Hope. I was asked to tell you a little bit about how this angel came to Southern California. Two and one-half years ago, I attended a national SIDS conference in Salt Lake City, UT, where Mr. Richard Paul Evans was a guest speaker. Mr. Evans is the author of the book, The Christmas Box, the story of a woman who mourns the death of her child at the base of a statue of an angel. After reading the book, many readers contacted Mr. Evans, searching for the location of this angel. You see, the angel did exist at the Salt Lake City Cemetery but was destroyed in a flood. Mr. Evans had a new angel commissioned on December 6, 1994, corresponding with the date of the child’s death in the book, in response to pleas from parents for a place to grieve their own child’s death. One statue grew to 10 which grew to 30 – people from all over the country began erecting angel statues – all because of a book – a book that bereaved parents held on to.
When I left the conference, I was determined to bring an angel to Southern California. You see my daughter, Kristy, died 20 years ago – September 18, 1982 – at the age of 4 months of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. We had her cremated and scattered her ashes at sea – there is no gravesite and no marker with her name. We have nowhere to go on the anniversary of her birthday and death day, nowhere to celebrate her brief life, nowhere to introduce her to the brothers she never had the opportunity to meet. It became a personal mission with me to create a place not only in memory of my daughter but in memory of all children – whether they were unborn, babies, tykes, teens, or adults – because I knew that there were others who had similar stories.
The first thing that our organization did was to solicit donations from our group’s members through an article in our quarterly newsletter. While we got some response, it wasn’t enough to make a dent in the $20,000 needed to finish this project. We knew that we had to come up with some other means to reach the community. I spoke at Rotary Club meetings, professional trainings, peer support meetings, mother’s groups, and bereavement groups raising awareness for our project but still little money. Our first break came when a SIDS aunt and uncle approached us to make a presentation to BMC Software. We did and they wholeheartedly supported the project and funded us $5,000. We matched that amount through our fundraising efforts bringing the total raised to $10,000.
We thought we might have better luck approaching organizations to support the Angel of Hope Monument if we had a location for her, so we began contacting cemeteries in the area. One of our group’s SIDS parents, Chuck Ricciardi called me one day and asked me to speak with Sam Randall of El Toro Memorial Park. We visited the cemetery and loved the site – especially the fact that we might be able to have her placed overlooking the children’s section. A presentation was made to the Board of Directors and, by a unanimous vote, was approved. The land was donated free of charge.
We now had land and half the money but seemed to be at a stalemate. That’s when my daughter, Laura Kirchner, who is working on her master’s degree in Mass Communications decided to work her magic and send press releases out to the local newspapers. An article ran in November 2001 – an article I might add that did not include any contact information. As a result, I received some phone calls – but one in particular stands out.
It was near Thanksgiving and a woman called me to ask about the project. She told me that she had just finished reading a book called The Christmas Box and couldn’t sleep. After tossing and turning, she did what most of us do – turn on the computer and surf the net. She came across a headline that caught her eye – “woman builds monument to dead children.” Intrigued, she read the article. Imagine her surprise when she discovered that the article talked about the same angel from the book she had just completed – the book that left her hungry to build a monument. She called me and began asking about how I became involved in the project, how much money we had raised to date, what our plans were to raise the balance and how much money was needed. She confided that her son had died at the age of 19 and then told me that she and her husband, Don and Shirley Zink, would like to make a donation – the entire amount needed to finish the project – over $10,000! I was stunned . . .
Now we were moving! The money was raised, we ordered the angel and now I HAD to get Richard Paul Evans here for the dedication. After all, how could we dedicate this angel without the person who had planted the seed. After months of negotiating dates, we came up with this September date and Mr. Evans graciously agreed to come.
A committee was formed to attend to the details and the planning began. But the miracles don’t stop here! Sam Randall contacted an architect whose rendering you see behind the angel, to assist us in planning the site. He was instrumental in helping us to plan where to place the angel, possible landscaping ideas, and placement of memorial bricks. He offered his services to us free of charge.
The committee began the arduous task of planning this dedication. We met for months and each member contributed unconditionally. We also had companies coming forward to donate their services. Everyone touched by this project seemed to realize the importance of it and did whatever they could be assist us. It was awesome and exciting!
But there was one more BIG item that needed to be completed – the base for the angel. We not only had to come up with an inscription but we had to pay for it. Sam had a contact for this project too – Kirk Hendricks of Christy Concrete. Under his direction, the granite was engraved and shipped from Georgia and one week ago a truck brought this 7,500 pound base home to Lake Forest – unfortunately, this truck broke down in Arizona! Kirk drove down from Fremont in Northern California and flew 2 of his employees down to set the base in place and attach the angel. In all, it took 5 men a full day to complete the job. Each meeting, I asked Sam to tell me the cost of the granite and each meeting he told me he was working on it. At the last meeting, I asked again . . . this time he told me there would be no bill. Kirk was donating the granite, the labor, and all costs associated with this angel.
This is a dream come true for me. To me, this angel will serve as my daughter’s gravesite. It is my hope that you, too, will find solace and comfort in this special Angel and that December 6th will find you attending the memorial service held here each year. The bricks that will surround her base will be our children’s markers – bricks that will contain names of children who have departed far too early – from parents, families, and friends who continue to love, miss and remember them.
We are so proud to bring this angel to Southern California – the 32nd angel of its kind. I can only imagine how proud Mr. Evans must feel to know that he is responsible for inspiring so many people throughout the country to erect their own angels.