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Amid stormy weather, hospice tree shines poignant light on loved ones’ memories

The Record, Stockton, Calif. logo The Record, Stockton, Calif. 11/27/2019 By Bob Highfill, The Record, Stockton, Calif
a group of people posing for the camera: The Delta Singers choir, directed by Bruce Southard, performs holiday songs at the Hospice San Joaquin's Tree of Lights lighting celebration. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD] © CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD/The Record, Stockton, Calif/TNS The Delta Singers choir, directed by Bruce Southard, performs holiday songs at the Hospice San Joaquin's Tree of Lights lighting celebration. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

STOCKTON — Inclement weather forced the Hospice of San Joaquin's 31st annual Tree of Lights ceremony indoors.

But the spirit of remembrance for loved ones who spent their final days at San Joaquin County's oldest hospice was as grand as the great outdoors.

Tuesday night's ceremony was held inside Warren Atherton Auditorium at San Joaquin Delta College due to strong wind and rain. In past years, people have gathered at the west entrance of campus to see the gigantic fir tree planted there illuminated by thousands of bright lights that represent a deceased family member or friend in what has become a tradition around the holidays in eight towns within the county.

a man holding a phone: Mary Galbrath, left, and her mother, Elaine Oneto-Galbrath, braved the rain and wind to take a selfie in front of the Hospice of San Joaquin's Tree of Lights. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD] © CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD/The Record, Stockton, Calif/TNS Mary Galbrath, left, and her mother, Elaine Oneto-Galbrath, braved the rain and wind to take a selfie in front of the Hospice of San Joaquin's Tree of Lights. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Employee volunteers with PG&E, one of the event's sponsors along with Delta College, and Hospice of San Joaquin decorated the tree with 2,000 feet of colorful, energy-efficient LED lights and 2,000 feet of garland.

a person standing in front of a building: United Way of San Joaquin CEO Kristen Birtwhistle, whose husband and father both died under hospice care, flips the switch to light Hospice of San Joaquin's Tree of Lights on Tuesday night. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD] © CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD/The Record, Stockton, Calif/TNS United Way of San Joaquin CEO Kristen Birtwhistle, whose husband and father both died under hospice care, flips the switch to light Hospice of San Joaquin's Tree of Lights on Tuesday night. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

"Last year we had over 8,000 lights on all of our trees," said Sandy Stoddard, development and marketing director for Hospice of San Joaquin. "We help families who have loved ones who are chronically ill and we help them with their end-of-life journey."

The Tree of Lights is a fundraiser for Hospice of San Joaquin through people who purchase a light on the tree.

Scott Tindell of Lodi, second from left, and his daughters Abi, left, Kallie, and Summer, look for the name of his mother on a list of people who passed away that was on display at the Hospice San Joaquin's Tree of Lights lighting ceremony. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD] © CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD/The Record, Stockton, Calif/TNS Scott Tindell of Lodi, second from left, and his daughters Abi, left, Kallie, and Summer, look for the name of his mother on a list of people who passed away that was on display at the Hospice San Joaquin's Tree of Lights lighting ceremony. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

"It's also a chance for families to come together, and it's holiday time and they're thinking about their loved ones," Stoddard said. "And this is a way to remember them and remember the positive things about their life."

a view of a city at night: A few people braved the rain and wind Tuesday to see the Hospice of San Joaquin's Tree of Lights in real life in front of San Joaquin Delta College after the lighting ceremony was held indoors at Atherton Auditorium due to the inclement weather. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD] © CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD/The Record, Stockton, Calif/TNS A few people braved the rain and wind Tuesday to see the Hospice of San Joaquin's Tree of Lights in real life in front of San Joaquin Delta College after the lighting ceremony was held indoors at Atherton Auditorium due to the inclement weather. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Last year, the tree lighting ceremony had to be postponed from its normal Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving date to early December due to poor air quality from California wildfires.

Kristen Birtwhistle, chief executive officer of United Way of San Joaquin, shared her story about how hospice helped her family before she flicked the switch to illuminate the tree. Live video images of the tree were projected onto a screen on the auditorium stage for the some 200 people in attendance.

Birtwhistle's husband, Steve, and her father, Dr. Joseph Spracher, died under hospice care.

Reese Dunn, a 7-year-old first-grader at Cathedral of the Annunciation School, was a guest of honor. Her drawing of a Christmas tree replete with lights, crosses, ornaments, a church candle and a giant star on top won a contest in her class to grace the program cover.

a person holding a teddy bear with a christmas tree: Raquel Order, left, and Abel Rivas braved the rain and wind to take a selfie Tuesday in front of the Hospice of San Joaquin's Tree of Lights in front of San Joaquin Delta College after attending the lighting ceremony, which was held indoors at Atherton Auditorium due to the inclement weather. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD] © CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD/The Record, Stockton, Calif/TNS Raquel Order, left, and Abel Rivas braved the rain and wind to take a selfie Tuesday in front of the Hospice of San Joaquin's Tree of Lights in front of San Joaquin Delta College after attending the lighting ceremony, which was held indoors at Atherton Auditorium due to the inclement weather. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

"My teacher said everyone can do a Christmas tree and make one," she said. "It was really hard because everyone's was really good."

For information on any Tree of Lights events or to contribute a light in honor of a departed loved one, call (209) 957-3888 or visit hospicesj.org/treeoflights.

Contact reporter Bob Highfill at (209) 546-8277 or jhighfill@recordnet.com. Follow him on Twitter @bobhighfill.

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©2019 The Record (Stockton, Calif.)

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