3,000 honored  in Lights of Love

Posted: December 2, 2013

The Winchester Star

Tree-lighting honoree Karen Oleksa, an 18-year Blue Ridge Hospice patient care volunteer, claps her hands after flipping the switch to light the trees at the 26th annual Lights of Love ceremony on Sunday at the Winchester Medical Center. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
Audrey Howard-Springs, 4, and her father, Ashley Springs of Frederick County, take a closer look at the trees that were lit during the 26th annual Lights of Love tree-lighting ceremony held Sunday at Winchester Medical Center. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — The 3,000 bright bulbs lighting up three large evergreens in front of Winchester Medical Center are part of an annual tradition.

Another tree, in front of the Winchester Rehabilitation Center at 333 W. Cork St., was also illuminated Sunday evening as part of the 26th annual Lights of Love.

Sponsored by the Winchester Medical Center Auxiliary, the project is a way to honor or remember loved ones.

Family members and friends can make a donation of $5 or more and have a light placed on the tree.

Small children who attend the Valley Health Day Care Center started the ceremony by singing several Christmas songs.

This year, the fundraiser brought in $36,000, according to Melanie Melester, treasurer of the Lights of Love planning committee. The proceeds will be divided evenly between the auxiliary and Blue Ridge Hospice.

Over the course of 26 years, Lights of Love has raised $580,500 Melester said.

Robert Mowery, chairman of the hospice’s board of directors, thanked everyone for their donations.

“It really allows us at Blue Ridge Hospice just to do so many wonderful things,” he said.

Valley Health President and CEO and Winchester Medical Center President Mark Merrill also expressed gratitude.

This time of year is one of reflection, he said.

“Tonight, we take time to pause,” Merrill said. “Pause to reflect on those who we hold near to us and dear to us, and many of those who have departed this life and moved on into the heavens. Tonight, we honor and applaud their lives and strive to keep them alive in our memories and in our hearts. Tonight, we honor 3,000 loved individuals.”

Karen Oleksa, a hospice volunteer, dedicated and lit the tree.

“I have met many, many caring families,” she said. “Blue Ridge Hospice is the most dedicated organization that I’ve ever known or been associated with, and I’m so proud to be part of it. And, I’m also very, very proud to live in a community that [boasts] such a highly regarded and highly acclaimed hospital system.”

Corinne and Donnie Newcome of Winchester were among the hundreds of people attending the ceremony.

“One of my friends put a light on the tree for me,” said Corinne Newcome, a skin cancer survivor. “We also purchased eight lights. [The ceremony] was very nice. Short and to the point, so I didn’t stand here and freeze.”

Kathy Mowery, Bob Mowery’s wife, said she comes to the ceremony every year.

“It’s always beautiful to see the lights come on,” she said. “It’s something I don’t want to ever miss. My sister was a patient in hospice, and it was just amazing how they take care of the patient and the family.”

— Contact Sally Voth at svoth@winchesterstar.com