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Tree of Life Ceremony Illuminates Memories at JV Mall

JEFFERSON VALLEY, N.Y.—Norma Engelhardt took the stage at the 23rd annual Tree of Life ceremony Friday night, to share some of her favorite stories of her father, Ernest Engelhardt.

“This is my dad,” said Norma Engelhardt, displaying a photo of her late father. “You probably don’t recognize him, he never won a Nobel prize, he never ran for public office, he never made a movie…he wasn’t a famous athlete, but he did love golf and he did have a hole in one once. He didn’t find a cure for the common cold either—but, he was extraordinary.”

Engelhardt told the story of her father’s perseverance prior to lighting a tree of life, sponsored by Hospice Care In Westchester and Putnam, as well as the Jefferson Valley Mall, where the event took place.

Engelhardt was remembered for his great stories and loyalty to his family—and that same loyalty from his family was commended by a nurse who knew Engelhardt through some of the last years of his life.

“Every time I made a visit to see this family, there was an abundance of love, friendship, stories and laughter,” said hospice nurse Helen DelVecchio through tears. “Tonight we honor Norma, Bob and their family and friends for the wonderful care, love and devotion they showed to Mr. Engelhardt every day. He will be missed.”

In attendance of the event were mall shoppers who were enchanted by the singing of the Antioch Baptist Choir of Bedford, who either stopped to watch the tree light up, or watched from the upper levels to see the ceremony, as well as family and friends of Ernest Engelhardt, and mall manager Jeremy Strife.

“These days it’s hard to find an organization whose sole mission is to provide constant and consistent care, compassion and comfort to those in the community in need during the more sacred times of life, and we are very thrilled to be able to support them,” Strife said. “We’re happy to open most of our common area to those charities and those organizations that embody the giving season, that truly embody the spirit of giving.”

The tree of life is lit by a different family every year, and this year’s tree that will remain lit in the mall through December 20 is in honor of Ernest Engelhardt. Norma told the story of her father, and how unlike so many, he actually graduated off a hospice program, before he died at 98 years old.

“He fought as hard as anyone ever could always with optimism, determination, a smile and a ready laugh,” she said. "There are so many words in the English language, but yet none can adequately convey the essence of who my father was. I just know the world was a better place because he was in it.”

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