Port Angeles family’s big yard display pays tribute to Connecticut school victims
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Ivy Mathison has placed ornaments honoring children killed in the Newtown, Conn., school massacre on each of the 20 trees making up the display on the lawn of her home at 807 E. Seventh St. in Port Angeles. Luminarias for the adults killed in the incident will line her sidewalk on Christmas Eve, she said. -- Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — A Port Angeles family who knows from experience what it’s like to lose a child has created a front-yard Christmas tree memorial to the 20 children who were killed Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Ivy and Craig Mathison, with their children, Hunter, 17, Caleb, 11, and Rayna, 8, have decorated 20 Christmas trees in their front yard at 807 E. Seventh St. that are lighted at night.

Each bears a special ornament with the name of one of the 20 first-grade children, ages 6 and 7, who died in the school shootings.

On Dec. 14, Adam Lanza, 20, allegedly shot his mother in their home in Newtown, then traveled to the school, where he killed 20 children and six adults with an assault rifle before taking his own life, according to Connecticut law enforcement officials.

The best way to memorialize those children is with lights they can see from heaven, Ivy Mathison said last week.

The family got a late start on holiday decorating this year and piled all of their decorations in the living room to sort the old, broken items from those that could be used, Ivy said.

When they were done, there was a selection of plastic trees spread across the living room.

“I think we have, like, 20 trees,” she said she told Craig, and a pile of plain metallic tree ornaments caught her eye.

The connection, she said, was immediate: 20 trees, 20 dead children.

With Caleb’s help, Ivy wrote on an ornament the name and age of each child who died, then decorated the trees in the yard with one ornament apiece, dedicating each tree to one child.

The yard, full of trees and lights in all colors, is hard to miss on the darkened city block.

Earlier versions of the family’s yard lights also were a beacon — a very personal message.

Ivy said she doesn’t know many of the details of the school attack — a self-protective, intentional ignorance, she said.

“I don’t watch the news. I can’t,” Ivy said. “I know what it’s like to lose a child.”

The Mathisons’ first daughter, Jade Sienna, died of sudden infant death syndrome in 2000 at the age of 2 months.

“She fell asleep. . . ,” Ivy began, then trailed off.

Every year since Jade’s death, the family has lit up the yard for the infant girl they never got to know.

This year, instead of one child, there are an additional 20 who fill Ivy’s heart.

“The thought of someone losing their children like that, it’s horrible,” she said.

People have noticed the family’s effort and are spreading the word — from posting on Facebook to word of mouth — of the out-of-the-way memorial display.

“Ivy and Craig Mathison do a light display every year. They are very kind people,” Joe Larson, a family friend, wrote on the Peninsula Daily News’ Facebook page, asking for people to visit the yard.

Jessica Creech, 37, of Port Angeles said Ivy and Craig are among the most caring and gentlest couples she knows.

A friend of the family, Creech said she just wants the Mathisons to get the recognition they deserve for their big hearts.

Ivy said she welcomes visitors to the memorial.

Whenever a car slows down and rolls down its windows to view the decorated yard, she wants to go out to thank them for coming.

However, most are gone before she can get out of the house, she said.

The Mathison family didn’t forget the other six adults — teachers, administrators and aids — who were killed at the school, they said.

“I’m going to light six luminaries for the adults,” Ivy said.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 22. 2012 7:17PM
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