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Giving tree honors memories of lost loved ones
giving tree
Kelly Sutter, Kaitlyn Wyatt, Denee Wallace and Trevor Wyatt (not pictured) came together to create a giving tree at La Mo honoring not only their late mother, Debbie Murdock, but lost loved ones of others in the community as well. - photo by Photo Contributed

Debbie Murdock couldn’t stand seeing children go without toys during the holidays. Every year, no matter how tough times were, she would make sure to pull tags from one of the many giving trees around town, purchasing toys from children’s wish lists for the Salvation Army’s annual toy giveaway.

Now, a tree in Murdock’s memory hopes to spread that same Christmas cheer.

“Mom gave to a variety of charitable foundations, but she always had a soft spot for kids in need,” said Murdock’s daughter, Danee’ Wallace. “My siblings and I wanted to do something to keep that tradition alive.

Murdock passed suddenly in January 2016 due to complications from a brain tumor, leaving behind her husband, Ron Murdock, and her four children, Wallace, Kelly Sutter, Trevor Wyatt and Kaitlyn Wyatt. The first Christmas in 2016 without their matriarch was hard, said Wallace.

“Mom was so into the holidays, and she loved Christmas,” she said. “She was amazing.”

During that first holiday season without Murdock in 2016, Wallace and her siblings began an online fundraising effort, collecting donations to continue their mother’s tradition of pulling tags for children who needed toys. The community’s response was overwhelming, said Wallace, and the four siblings were able to shop until they dropped for children in need.

This year, however, Murdock’s children want other people to know the joy of purchasing toys for children who need them most. Thanks to the generous donations of a tree from RAM Farms, ornaments from Farm House and space at La Mo, a memory tree in Murdock’s honor greets diners as they make their way to La Mo’s outdoor plaza.

On this memory tree, visitors can write on one of the wooden ornaments, or an ornament of their own, something special about someone they may have lost, and in turn remove a tag from the tree which contains a toy that person may purchase for a child in need.

“We know we’re not the only ones who have lost someone or miss someone,” said Wallace. “When I go and look at the tree, I see all of these ornaments where people write about their loved ones.

“It gives me a little comfort knowing other people are finding a bit of joy this year through those memories.”

Wallace and her siblings decorated the memory tree in late November – just one of many activities that has helped the foursome overcome the loss of their mother.

“Through everything we’ve gone through – the four of us, and all of my family – we have really stuck together,” said Wallace. “This is just one more thing we get to do together that we know mom would be proud of.”

Tags can be pulled from the memory tree at La Mo up until Dec. 23, when the Salvation Army will distribute purchased toys to children. Toys can be dropped off at the Salvation Army, located at 893 Lander Ave.