During a moment of silence at a small triangular park in Vancouver’s Heights neighborhood, friends and neighbors stood around an infant sequoia tree thinking back on the life of Vaughn Rhoden and others who’ve died during the pandemic.
As the quiet Saturday morning stretched on, birds chirped all around. It was a fitting occurrence that honored a man whom friends described as an avid bird watcher.
Vaughn Rhoden, a former chairman of the Vancouver Heights Neighborhood Association, died from the coronavirus two years ago.
The neighborhood association decided the tree would be a fitting way to honor its fallen leader and all those who lost their lives to the virus.
The little tree, which could grow to be as tall as 290 feet, was dedicated during the weekend ceremony as the Vaughn Rhoden COVID Memorial Tree.
Rhoden “always wanted to be looked up to,” said his niece, Amy Clemmer, with a laugh.
The Ponce family lived across the street from Vaughn Rhoden and his wife, Barbara Rhoden, for 34 years. Their daughters are best friends.
Kadie Ponce remembered Vaughn Rhoden’s sense of humor.
“It was just so heartbreaking when he passed away,” Kadie Ponce said. “It’s just kind of a shock.”
“I just miss him,” added Kadie’s husband, Juan Ponce. “He was always just there for everybody.”
“I think this is a fitting tribute to Vaughn and not just to Vaughn,” said Park Llafet, the Vancouver Heights Neighborhood Association’s current chairman.
More than a thousand people died of COVID-19 in Clark County, he said.
“Vaughn was just one of them. Many of you lost loves ones,” Llafet said to the crowd.
Speaking during the ceremony, Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle pointed out that the number of county residents lost to COVID was the same number of people who live within the Heights neighborhood’s boundary.
“Can you imagine losing an entire neighborhood to COVID?” she asked the crowd. “That’s what has happened.”
The Heights neighborhood is evolving, the mayor said. Before the neighborhood association took charge of the “Garrison Triangle,” it was just dirt. Now the small park is covered in grass and surrounded with trees, giving the neighborhood a place to enjoy.
“Lots and lots of people will drive by this little triangle for decades,” said McEnerny-Ogle. “And they’ll always wonder, ‘Why is this tree in the middle of this beautiful, beautiful triangle?’”
The virus, Llafet said, will be with the world for a long time. And so the tree will stand in honor of Vaughn Rhoden’s life and all the lives that have been lost.
“We just hope that one day it reaches 290 feet tall,” said Llafet.
The Rev. Adrienne Strehlow is the pastor at the neighborhood’s Immanuel Lutheran Church. She took a few moments at the ceremony to anoint and bless the tree with holy oil.
Trees are givers and receivers of life, she said. They take nutrients from the death found in the soil and convert them into oxygen for humanity.
“That is a perfect symbol and a perfect reminder of this memorial, this testimony to the love and the life that we’ve shared and the memories that we take with us forever,” Strehlow said.
Barbara Rhoden and her family all traveled from out of town for the event.
“This is the best city ever,” said Barbara Rhoden. “I appreciate everything they’ve done. The association is wonderful.”
The tree, along with 23 others, was planted by Urban Forestry.