Angel of Hope Memorial Garden Opens at Heritage Park
Photographer / Robby Berry
There is perhaps no greater pain than that of losing a child. Holly Schwomeyer knows such pain all too well. When her daughter, Allison Koers, passed away in May of 2018, she struggled to find the strength to move forward. One day when she was attending a support group for parents who have lost children, someone mentioned the Angel of Hope Memorial Garden at Forest Park in Noblesville. She decided to visit the park and as she stood in the garden, a wave of comfort passed over her. Schwomeyer, a Fishers resident, thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have one of these closer to home?” She proposed the project to City of Fishers leaders, who forwarded the proposal to the Fishers Parks Foundation.
The Parks Foundation has helped to install bike racks, inclusive playground equipment and pickleball courts at Cyntheanne Park. They also facilitate the honor brick pavers at Liberty Plaza. The Angel of Hope Memorial Garden seemed to Parks Foundation leaders like a great way to fill a need in the community.
“Unfortunately, over the past few years we have become too familiar with the services held for students who have taken their own lives, as well as families who have lost children in accidents due to illness, infant loss and miscarriage,” says Lisa Knowles, president of the Fishers Parks Foundation. “Providing a place where those families and friends can gather individually or as a group seemed like an easy choice.”
There are more than 100 Angel of Hope sites around the U.S. Each one is home to an annual dedication on December 6. The Fishers Parks Foundation broke ground at Heritage Park in December of 2019, with a projected completion date of December 6, 2020. Thanks to several generous donors, project leaders met their objective. Local entrepreneur Steve Cage was one of those donors. He attended Harvest Fest to support local artists who had been hit hard due to the pandemic. At the festival he learned about the Angel of Hope project and wanted to help, and his foundation donated $35,000.
“Basically, he donated the balance to ensure the project would be complete,” Schwomeyer says. “Every time I think about it, it gives me chills. It’s hard to fathom that there are people out there who are so generous.”
Others have made contributions as well. Jeff Gatewood, former owner of Allisonville Nursery, Home & Garden, provided all the landscaping for the project free of charge. Gatewood lost two daughters, one at birth and one at 23. Tim Birch is a mason who donated his time and skills to the project because he, too, knows the pain of loss, as his daughter passed away.
“We are all finding peace through this,” says Schwomeyer, who even now struggles to grapple with Allison’s tragic death.
Allison suffered a seizure in her sleep and went into cardiac arrest. Her husband Mark, a firefighter, tried to revive her but was unsuccessful. Allison, who had just turned 32, was in a coma for three weeks and never regained consciousness. Doctors weren’t able to pinpoint what caused the seizure.
Schwomeyer calls the Angel of Hope a “God-sent blessing,” and is pleased with the location that the Fishers Park Foundation selected. Because Heritage Park is located on the west end of the city and doesn’t have a playground or sports facilities, it’s fairly quiet. The Ambassador House hosts weddings and other events, and the garden that surrounds it is a labor of love for the group that tends it. There is a paved path all the way through the back side of the park that runs through the trees and by the river.
“As we were looking for a site for the Angel, we considered five different spots within the park in an attempt to find a space that was beautiful, peaceful and easily accessible, while providing some privacy but not isolation,” Knowles says. “It was one of the ladies who tends the garden that suggested the spot next to the gazebo, and the landscape architect, Gary Warren, agreed.”
Because of the raised structure of the patio, Warren was able to create a spot that looks out over the park while granting visitors some privacy. Additionally, Gatewood planted shrubs and small tulip trees.
“The serene location is breathtaking – these children can be remembered forever in a very peaceful place,” says Schwomeyer, noting that there will be benches around the memorial as well as a shelter. She also made sure the garden is handicap accessible.
On a recent visit to the Angel of Hope, Schwomeyer connected with another mom who shared that her 15-year-old daughter had died of meningitis.
“She didn’t get to see her daughter graduate from high school or get married,” says Schwomeyer, tearing up at the thought. “I think this will be an incredible place for all of us to find healing and hope.”
Knowles also knows the agony of losing a child, having suffered multiple miscarriages throughout the last several years.
“My husband and I always envisioned a large family,” she says. “We are so blessed to be parents to one awesome kid, but we are also familiar with the grief that these parents have experienced. While people grieve in many different ways, having a beautiful, peaceful place to sit and think, or stand and sing, or walk and cry or any combination of those is valuable. It has been cathartic for me to help create the space, and I hope that other families will feel similarly as they visit for birthdays, anniversaries, annual dedications, or any day they need peace.”
The Angel of Hope Memorial Garden is located in Heritage Park, at 10595 Eller Road in Fishers.