Children’s Memorial Garden taking shape

Children’s Memorial Garden taking shape


MADISON — Losing a child is perhaps the worst event a parent can endure.

“When I lost my son, Parker, I started building a memorial garden for him at my home and needed flowers,” Cordie Rodenbaugh of Madison said. 

That was in 2014 and someone recommended that Rodenbaugh consult with Donna Yowell, the executive director of the Mississippi Urban Forest Council, a nonprofit that provides education to communities about urban forestry and natural resources. 

“I learned she had lost her granddaughter,” Rodenbaugh said.

After speaking with Yowell and sharing their losses, Rodenbaugh was inspired to build a garden for all lost children and to form a group for grieving mothers. 

In October 2017, Rodenbaugh formed a group called “Too Soon,” which now consists of mothers from Madison, Ridgeland, Canton and the surrounding area who have lost children.

“Since then, we’ve looked at many different places for the garden,” Rodenbaugh said of the location for Madison Children’s Memorial Garden. “Strawberry Patch Park seemed to be the perfect place. All of our children have played there and went to schools around or near the park. It just made sense.”

Melody Lanke, a member of Too Soon, said her oldest son, Chase, died in July 2018. She joined the group about six months after his death, and the first Too Soon meeting she attended included a discussion about forming the Madison Children’s Memorial Garden.

Lanke’s son is in a different state, so frequently visiting the gravesite is not possible.

“This garden is a way for me to go out and remember him here,” Lanke said. “It’s a beautiful and peaceful place.”

Rodenbaugh said Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler and the Madison community have been loving, kind and giving toward the project.  

“We started planting in the garden around two years ago,” Rodenbaugh said. “The community has helped us with donations and plants. Landscapers are starting to give sod to us, and we’re halfway toward the total amount we need. We’re now trying to save money for the fountain. After we finish the fountain, we plan on expanding the garden with statues of children playing and adding a couple more benches.” 

The Madison Children’s Memorial Garden is located next to the Strawberry Chapel in Strawberry Patch Park at 271 St. Augustine Drive in Madison. The garden features a walkway paved with bricks, some bearing the names of deceased children, a gazebo and a work-in-progress fountain.

“Chase grew up here, and I’m happy I have a place to remember him and all the other children who are gone too soon,” Lanke said. “Please come out and see the garden. People can remember my child because they can walk by and see his name on a brick. It’s a great place for people to come and look at the progress we’ve made and say the names of our lost children out loud. It helps us know that people are praying for us as we’re going through this journey of living without our children.”

Christine Kelly, a charter member of Too Soon, said the city’s involvement in the project is fantastic, and the group is hoping to have the fountain finished in the garden sometime next year. 

Kelly honored her son’s memory by engraving her son Walker’s name on a brick and placing it in the walkway around the developing fountain. Her son lost his life in 2011 in a car crash on the way to Ole Miss. 

“Too Soon is very happy with how the garden is turning out,” Kelly said. “It’s beautiful so far. We go out to the garden every couple of months and do weeding and planting, and we keep things neat and in shape. We also meet people out there to help them with planting.” 

On Dec. 7, Too Soon and the City of Madison held a “Sip and See” event at the garden where parents helped decorate a Christmas Tree to honor the deceased children. The tree will remain up through the Christmas season. 

People can join Too Soon by going to the Too Soon Facebook page and joining there. Meetings are the first Thursday of every month at Broadmoor Baptist Church, 1531 Highland Colony Parkway, Madison, or contact Kelly at 601-573-1688 for more information. 

To purchase a brick, donate funds for the garden or learn more about the Too Soon organization, visit, or send a check to P.O. Box 63, Madison, Mississippi 39110.

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