ROCK FALLS — The names of more than 800 loved ones were read aloud during Rock Falls’ annual Love Light Tree ceremony in front of a live Christmas tree.
That the 18-foot tree lit up in RW&B Park on Friday evening is a live tree drew several gasps of surprise from the crowd.
“I know. A lot of people maybe didn’t know,” Rock Falls Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sam Smith said. “We have a beautiful 18-foot Christmas tree on the stage that’s provided by Rock Falls Tourism that we’re going to light tonight and that we’re going to continue to use.”
The previous Love Light Tree, which was located near the road and was in poor condition, recently was removed and the space where it had been paved. A live tree was planted in 2019 to the left of the park’s stage with the intention of becoming the new Love Light Tree. Right now, the tree is about 10 feet tall and has some mulch and landscaping bricks around it. Lights were placed around its base for the Hometown Holidays celebration.
“As you can notice, right now he’s a little small and he’s a little fragile, so we’re going to wait a little bit longer to start hanging stuff on him,” Smith said. “But I wanted you guys to meet him and know that live Christmas tree right there will someday be our lovely Love Light Ceremony.”
A local nursery planted the new tree, and continues to keep good track of its health, Smith said. It was planted off the roadway in order to protect it from salt and other similar tree health hazards, she said.
“We wanted to make sure it gets strong enough before we start hanging things from it,” Smith said. “But we definitely wanted to highlight it tonight.”
The Love Light Ceremony name readers were Bill Westcott, former mayor; Chris King, United County Sauk Valley Realty; state Rep. Bradley Fritts; Kevin Anderson, CGH Medical Center; Tod Melton, Melton Law Firm; Nancy Stockwell, Beacon of Hope Hospice; and the Rev. Brian Vickers, Rock River Christian Center and Whiteside County United Way.
“Our hope is that, when you hear your loved one’s name read it, that it brings you some comfort and remembering all the memories you had with that loved one,” Blackhawk Hills Regional Council office manager Julie Jacobs told ceremony attendees. “As you drive by this route and you see all the lights on the tree, you just get a glimpse of happiness and remembering what they brought you.”