The bronze statue of a childlike angel, barefoot with outstretched arms, was erected in the Maple Grove Arboretum in 2001 to mark a quiet, beautiful place to reflect on loved ones who have died — especially children.
People have flocked to the Angel of Hope Garden over the years since, sponsoring brick pavers inscribed with personal and often intimate tributes: “Little Rosebud,” “Our Tiny Hero” and “Our Little Angel.”
Now, with more than 700 bricks in the plaza nearly sold out, the nonprofit Friends of the Angel is helping the city renovate and expand the area with an additional 1,500 bricks, more benches, arbors, perennial gardens, lighting and an ADA-accessible path.
The original bricks, which had started to erode, have been replaced with new bricks bearing the same inscriptions. The city sells the engraved pavers for $125.
The renovation, costing about $250,000, should be complete sometime this fall. The nonprofit has committed to raising $75,000. Families who purchased an original brick can retrieve them through the Friends; to find out how, visit the group’s website at friendsoftheangel.org.
“It’s a place to remember. It’s a place to come together and honor your loved ones,” said Sue Drag, president of the Friends of the Angel. “My son is buried in a cemetery, but I come here much more.”
Drag’s son, Billy, died two days after his birth in 1985. She purchased an engraved paver to honor him and also bought one for her brother John, who died in the Iraq war in 2006.
The idea for the Angel of Hope statue was born in a book called “The Christmas Box.” In the 1993 bestselling novel, author Richard Paul Evans wrote of an angel statue visited by a mother mourning the loss of her child.
When real-life parents began seeking out the statue described in the book, Evans commissioned an angel monument and erected it in Salt Lake City on Dec. 6, 1994, corresponding with the date of the child’s death in the novel.
Others across the country began purchasing the same bronze angel statue, placing it in parks and outdoor spaces.
There are currently more than 120 Angel of Hope monuments in the United States, Canada and Japan. Seven are in Minnesota: Maple Grove, Chanhassen, Perham, Spicer, Fergus Falls, Duluth and Virginia.
The nonprofit Pregnancy and Infant Loss Center leased park property from Maple Grove to install the angel statue there in 2001. Engraved on the base of the statue is an open invitation to the annual candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. every Dec. 6. The vigils are held at angel statues across the country. The Maple Grove gathering draws hundreds each year.
When the pregnancy center became defunct, the city took over the basic upkeep and oversight of the angel, and the Friends nonprofit was formed to help with maintenance.
The nonprofit’s all-volunteer board of directors is made up of four mothers who have lost children. They host a reception each year after the vigil, spring and fall brick dedication ceremonies, and the Walk to Remember around Rice Lake every May; participation fees help to fund the Friends’ work.
“The city has been really supportive and recognizes the meaning and specialness of this statue,” Drag said. “The city recognizes there is a grieving community that needs a place to go.”
Patty Anderson, an administrative coordinator with Maple Grove, said the angel statue has become a place of solace for people of all faiths and creeds who have lost a loved one, no matter how old.
“It’s so you don’t feel so alone in that grief. It’s a healing process,” Anderson said.