Story of Bedford Women’s Club’s December tradition

When the days grow dark, it is important to celebrate the reassuring qualities we find in people. Such qualities have the power of lights in the darkness.

Stephanie Johnson, past president of the Bedford Women’s Club (1997-98), had a vision: plant a tree and make it a “tradition for the community.”

In 1996, Johnson was second vice president of the Bedford Women’s Club, with the responsibility of raising funds for charities and scholarships. She wanted to have the Women’s Club plant an evergreen so she could ask people to purchase lights for the tree and raise funds. She obtained approval of the club board, and her landscaper said he would provide the tree at cost and plant it for free at the library.

At the September meeting of the Bedford Women’s Club, Johnson introduced the idea to the general membership who voted to pay for the tree.

Fran Wiggin, director of the Bedford Library, loved the idea. The view was that the library would be a wonderful place for the tree to grow since so many people use the library and the children of Bedford would see this tree lit every December and want to remember someone special in their lives.

The purpose of the tree was not to be a religious symbol but merely to remember those special people who had been helpful during the year. The Memory Tree, a 10-foot balsam fir, was planted to spread thanks and good will during the month of December when so many should be remembered and thanked for their help, love or consideration over the year.

Pictures of the tree being planted, pictures of the tree lit at night, and the names of persons being honored by a light were listed in the local press.

During the second year of the tree, the club wanted people to get something tangible for the purchase of a light, such as a card that could be sent to the person being remembered. This was hopefully going to spur more people to support the tree. The tree lighting ceremony was started the second year.

Club member Hannah Perutz, a local artist at the time, designed the cards. The honor card text read, “A joy of this Holiday Season is the opportunity to recognize the magic of you. A light on the Memory Tree at the library green in Bedford, N.H. will be shining just for you.” The memory card text read, “This year the Memory Tree on the library green in Bedford, N.H. will have a light in remembrance of ____.” The friendship card text read, “The light of your spirit has brightened my world….”

The trees never thrived in the ground where they were planted. The balsam fir planted in 1996 died after the first winter. Other trees were planted. In April 2005, the Women’s Club notified the director of the Bedford Library that the Memory Tree had succumbed to an incurable fungal infection. A member of the Women’s Club removed the tree and as much of the stump as possible.

Also in 2005, the Town of Bedford was changing the traffic pattern in front of Olde Towne Hall. It was necessary to remove the Town Memorial Tree planted in front of Olde Towne Hall.

Town Memorial Trees had been cared for by the Bedford Garden Club since the first Memorial Tree was dedicated to the community’s service men and women in 1947.

Through conversations with town engineer Jeff Foote of the Bedford Department of Public Works, members of the Bedford Garden Club chose a site. The Bedford Garden Club paid for a soil test.

The location, 25 feet from the road, is upslope from the road grade. It is on the corner of Bedford Center Road and Church Road. The Bedford Garden Club continues to care for the tree and decorate it with lights provided by the Bedford Women’s Club.

The Bedford Women’s Club conducts a tree lighting ceremony at the site each December. To keep the Memory Tree tradition alive, the club invites the community to assemble and remember those who have fostered friendship, inspired and served.

– Nancy Herper

Co-chair, Town Memorial Tree Committee

Bedford Women’s Club