There’s a story behind their necklaces.
It’s kind of hard to believe. But Stefani Evans and Claytee White tell it anyway.
Evans, the project manager for UNLV’s Oral History Research Center, and White, the center’s director, are sitting in a reading room at the university’s library explaining why they are wearing tree pendants.
It all begins with their work on “Healing Las Vegas,” which chronicles how the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden came to be. Evans co-edited the book and White helped collect much of the source material.
One of its more surreal passages involves the Tree of Life.
As the Garden was being built, one of co-creator Jay Pleggenkuhle’s friends, Mark Hamelmann, a fellow landscaping professional who died in December, was on-site looking for just the right place for its centerpiece.
“He goes out and sees a likely spot,” Evans begins. “He’s kicking around in the soil to see its consistency and stability and his boot catches on a gold chain.
“He reaches down, tries to pull the chain out of the dirt, but the dirt is holding that chain,” she continues, “so he has to work it out. As he works it out, on the chain is the pendant of the tree of life.”
Needless to say, he’d found the spot.
Sunday afternoon, the two will meet with Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic, who was instrumental in getting the garden off the ground, and present him with a tree pendant of his own. Jerbic gave the original pendant that Hamelmann discovered to the mother of Cameron Robinson, a Route 91 festival victim who worked in Jerbic’s office.
Such poignant moments abound in “Healing Las Vegas,” a picture-heavy book whose proceeds will go to benefit the garden’s upkeep.
Divided into five themes — hope, joy, life, love and peace — “Healing” is a moving, uplifting read that features the thoughts and recollections of numerous survivors, first responders, family members and more. Their quotes were culled from interviews conducted by White as part of an oral history project on the Oct. 1, 2017, massacre.
The idea for the book originated with the city, which wanted to help raise funds to sustain the garden.
Mauricia Baca, executive director of nonprofit Get Outdoors Nevada, which maintains the garden, contacted UNLV seeking someone to spearhead the project.
Soon enough, White and Evans were on board with co-editor Donna McAleer, working nearly nonstop to go through the 60 to 65 interviews and put “Healing” together in just four months.
One of those interviewed for the oral history project and quoted in the book is local Route 91 survivor Corey Nyman.
“I just thought that there were a lot of things that weren’t said, a lot of things that people didn’t know,” Nyman says of what compelled him to share his thoughts. “I’ve found that the more I can talk about it, I think does help. It’s not my story, it’s everyone’s story.”
“I just don’t want people to forget,” he says. “I don’t want people to forget how we felt. I don’t want people to forget what we went through. I think the ‘Healing Garden’ will help that. The book, it’s written; it’s never going away. It’s another element of our soul as a city.”
The book, published by University of Nevada Press, came together almost as quickly the garden did.
None of this is lost on Baca.
“I really think that the Healing Garden, and so much about the way our community reacted afterward, just says a lot,” she says. “The garden happened so quickly, it’s beyond light speed. For any city to say, ‘Yeah, here, have our land.’ That in itself is kind of mind-boggling. The fact that we were able, as a community, to have this place that reacted in such a positive, special way, with a permanence to it, within a week of this horrific event, I haven’t heard of anything like that. Anywhere.
“It’s a little bit of magic that made the garden happen,” she adds. “And it’s a little bit of magic that made the book happen.”
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