WINCHESTER — Lights adorning three evergreen trees at Winchester Medical Center on Amherst Street and one at the Rehabilitation Center on Cork Street are more than holiday decorations.
Each twinkling bulb memorializes someone who has died or honors a special person.
On Saturday night, the trees were illuminated as part of the Winchester Medical Center Auxiliary’s annual Lights of Love, which is marking its 31st year. Hundreds of people attended the ceremony, which was moved inside the WMC Conference Center because of rain.
“We remember and honor those who are dear to us,” chaplain and WMC volunteer Peter Ford said before the lighting ceremony. “For many of us, the tears and the joy are intermingled.”
For a $5 donation, people could purchase a light. This year’s Lights of Love raised $44,000 for the WMC Cancer Center and Blue Ridge Hospice. Checks for $22,000 each were presented to Helen Zebarth, founder of Blue Ridge Hospice, and Grady “Skip” Philips, president of WMC.
“The holiday season is a time of polarities,” Philips told the crowd. “We have the hustle and bustle, but we have the calm... We have darkness, but we have the hope of light that comes with the holidays.”
Constance Morrison, CEO of Blue Ridge Hospice, noted that Lights of Love has raised $400,000 for the nonprofit organization over the years. “We are honored to be one of the recipients.”
Barney Stine, a retired banker and Blue Ridge Hospice volunteer, was the honoree chosen this year to light the trees.
“We’re going to count,” Stine said, leading the group in a countdown. “Let’s do this together.”
After the trees were lit, people went outside to take pictures.
Mark and Kathy Ritenour attended the ceremony with their daughter Georgia. The family bought six lights to commemorate Kathy’s parents, two family friends and some missed family pets.
Kathy Ritenour said when her father passed away at WMC five years ago, his nurses and doctor bought a light in his memory. Six months later, her mother died, and she has been buying lights for them ever since.
“It feels good,” she said, looking up at the tree. “To remember.”
Dustin Walker, a friend of the Ritenours, attended Lights of Love because the family bought a light for his father, Edmond Walker, who died in October.
“It’s pretty heavy,” Walker said about seeing the lights and remembering how his father enjoyed the sight of a decorated tree. “He loved Christmas, and I love Christmas. It’s just really special they got a light for me.”
Dr. Leonard Yang, who works in the WMC Emergency Department, said during the ceremony that he found the lighting “uplifting,” especially as a member of the Blue Ridge Hospice board.
“Just the camaraderie and spirit of cooperation and giving,” Yang said about the event. “It’s good to see this support and the overflowing numbers here.”