MUSCATINE, Iowa–Barb Andresen cared deeply about decorating the Babyland section of Memorial Park Cemetery each year at Christmas. After burying three of her infant children there, she took it upon herself to honor their memories, and those of the other children there, with thoughtful holiday displays. She cared about the decorating so much she even held a benefit to raise money to add electrical outlets to that part of the cemetery, allowing her to put up grander displays.
After the deaths of her husband and one of her adult daughters, Andresen found it more difficult to get to Babyland and decorate each year. However, she did as much as she could, along with the help of her daughter, Kelly Howell.
Several years ago, Howell continued the tradition of decorating when her mother fell ill and needed hospitalization. After her mother’s death, Howell paused the decorating for some time, but in this year when people need hope more than ever, Howell felt the time had come to renew her mother’s tradition.
On Thanksgiving, Howell spent two hours tidying up Babyland and trimming the grass. In the days that followed, she fashioned tiny shepherds hooks from wire coat hangers, hung ornaments on them, and then placed one on each of the 130 graves there. Her friend, Ken LaRue, replaced a broken electrical outlet, allowing her to put up lights throughout the area. Kellor and Kellor Landscaping graciously donated a Christmas tree placed in the middle of the display, giving it a beautiful finishing touch. “I couldn’t have done it without help,” Howell said.
Howell took great pleasure in how this year’s decorating turned out and feels that it celebrates each of the children laid to rest there. “I wanted to really make it something that people would notice and want to get involved with,” she explained. “I’ve had quite a few people tell me how much it meant to them.” Anyone may view it either from Mulberry Avenue or by driving into the cemetery itself.
Howell also believed getting the lights back up would honor her mother, who worked so hard on them for so long. “My mom would be happy to see it,” she shared.
In the future, Howell hopes more people will get involved with the decorating and help maintain Babyland throughout the year. At Christmas, she would like to add additional lights to the trees surrounding it. During the warmer months, she would appreciate help with mowing the grass. Eventually, she would like this volunteer work to count towards Silver Cord hours to encourage more high school students and youth groups to volunteer.
If you would like to assist Howell in tending Babyland and in putting up and maintaining the holiday lights, she encourages you to call her at 563-272-8649.