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‘A glimpse of Heaven’ | Moms who have lost children rally community to create children’s memorial garden

The Madison Children's Memorial Garden at Strawberry Patch Park was created by a group called...
The Madison Children's Memorial Garden at Strawberry Patch Park was created by a group called "Too Soon," which consists of moms who have lost children. It is a special place where parents can visit and reflect on their loss as well as celebrate the lives that are gone "Too Soon". The purpose is to bring about tranquility and to reflect and feel God's presence and hope by bringing a glimpse of Heaven closer to home.(Cordie Rodenbaugh)
Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 7:09 PM CDT
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MADISON, Miss. (WLBT) - Moms and dads who have survived the indescribable loss of a child will soon have a special place to remember their son or daughter and celebrate their lives.

The Madison Children’s Memorial Garden is 60% complete.

It shares the same grounds as Strawberry Patch Park and if you swing by, even undone, you can feel its serenity.

A fountain of hope is surrounded by a brick path that extends to several arbors that will be nestled in fields of flowers where families can relax, reflect or pray. Parents can have their child’s name engraved on a brick.

And how the project came together is even more captivating.

Three Ole Miss freshmen, returning to school, died in a car crash in 2011 after surprising their parents at home in Madison. The sudden deaths of 18-year-old Sam Kelly, 19-year-old Walker Kelly, and 19-year-old Mason Wilbanks shook the entire city. Immediately, three moms became best friends just like their sons, later forming a group called Too Soon, responsible for this garden.

One mom and member of the group, Cordie Rodenbaugh, suggested the idea and everyone rallied the community, beginning with a prayer over the project.

This is 'Too Soon,' the group of moms who have lost children who gathered in prayer at...
This is 'Too Soon,' the group of moms who have lost children who gathered in prayer at Strawberry Patch Park before beginning the Madison Children's Memorial Garden project. (Cordie Rodenbaugh)

“It’s just so overwhelming to all of us,” Rodenbaugh said.

The mom spread the word through social media and their idea quickly became real.

“The mayor, the community, businesses, organizations, everyone has just pitched in, donated money, time, prayers,” she added.

Cordie Rodenbaugh calls the grassroots, community-funded project a total faith walk.

“We’ve been doing a little bit here and there, trusting God to the rest. We still need to complete the fountain, the garden area, some lighting, and a statue of some children playing,” she said.

Volunteers in the community members gathered to begin the work to build the Madison Children's...
Volunteers in the community members gathered to begin the work to build the Madison Children's Memorial Garden at Strawberry Patch Park.(Cordie Rodenbaugh)

Too Soon also wants parents to be able to find strength in one another.

“When you lose a child, you look for anything you can to help,” Rodenbaugh said. “God has given us an opportunity to build this garden for other parents, grandparents, and family members to meet each other and see all the other children in heaven with their child.”

Here are the names of the children from parents of Too Soon:

Michael Vinson, 28

Stuart Shelby Smith, 24

Sam Clayton Kelly, 18

Charles Walker Kelly, 19

Chase Lanke, 25

James Emauel Smith (JES), 16

Tait Hendrix, 27

Mackenzie Elaine Wilbanks, 6

Nate Rogers, 28

Kris Purser, 27

Austin Elliott, 24

Mason Wilbanks, 19

Benson Reed Ingram, 23

Zach Spell, 21

Martin Sutton, birth/heaven date 6/13/2019

Michael (Mike) Rosella, 46

Michael Lembo, 20

Walker Wilbanks, 17

Liam Galaty, 14

Evan Baney, 2

Ryan LaSource, 3

Easton Burchfield, due date 1/9/2020

Brennen Boone, 19

Anna Clare Files, 14 weeks

Cade Ainsworth, 15

Chris Ray Dove, 34

Nolan Ellaey, 22

Jared Entrekin, 26

Kaitlin Hawkins, 17

Kelly Hearst, 28

John Martin Holcomb, 16 days

Jack Reynolds Holiman, 21

Peyton Houchins, 24

Mary Owen Jacobs, 7 months

Natalie Jones, 22 months

Cole Kirby, 18

Ryan Kirkpatrick, 17

Charles Tyler Lind, 18

Conner Franklin Lind, 3 days

Preston Christopher Lind, 23

Robert Malouf, 25

Rivers McGraw, 20

Truett Primos, 22

Nathan Richardson, 38

Eric Seeley, 25

Matthew Smith, 22

Leslie Christine Starkey, 29

Tyler Lucas Stewart, 24

Chase Street, 20

Cathrine Thornton, 27

Blake Walley, 26

Drew Traylor

Will Stonestreet

Jesse Jordan

Veda Gillis

Clay Converse

Brennon McNeese

And even Rodenbaugh’s 22-year-old son, Parker.

“He was someone that could walk in a room and just light everything up,” Rodenbaugh smiled. “He wanted to build houses. Ever since he was three years old, he would make me stop and look at a house being built.”

When Parker died, Cordie Rodenbaugh found a sketch her son made of a beautiful deck and garden area next to a pond.

Rodenbaugh brought Parkers sketch to life and discovered the solace in it.

“He always took in nature and he absorbed life,” she said.

And Too Soon hopes all parents experience the fullness of life even after a loss.

“The beauty in our grief is helping someone else to see the hope we have,” Rodenbaugh said. “Our prayer is that this will be a place of comfort, peace and rest.”

This is the arbor at the Madison Children's Memorial Garden at Strawberry Patch Park. It's...
This is the arbor at the Madison Children's Memorial Garden at Strawberry Patch Park. It's intended to be a place of comfort, rest and peace for everyone.(Cordie Rodenbaugh)

Click here to learn more about this project, donate or have your child’s name engraved on a brick.

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