Photos by Gina Turner
As Hurricane Rita churned toward the Texas coast in September 2005, Shane Carter was in the midst of another, more terrible, storm. While the hurricane was causing destruction and flooding across the coast, Shane lost her fight with cancer. Don Carter, her husband, a longtime member of the Rotary Club of Lake Conroe, planned to honor her memory through a donation at a club function that had been rescheduled because of Hurricane Rita. Friends at the Rotary Club, however, had a better idea–a memorial park in the town of Montgomery.
Don’s generous donation provided a good start for what would become a unique enclave to honor or remember those who have been loved and appreciated. Today, a fountain in Shane’s memory is near the entrance of Memory Park; it was one of the first of many tributes that have been constructed there. Other memorials include gardens, trees, benches, bridges, pathways, split-rail fencing, and islands. The park is also the home of many community projects, including numerous Boy Scout and Girl Scout projects.
A hidden gem
The Rotary Club of Lake Conroe had been prepared to assist with a park in Montgomery for some time, but the stars aligned when Philip LeFevre, developer of Buffalo Springs, and his wife Holly donated a tract of unimproved land for use as a public park. The LeFevres, who have lived in Montgomery for four decades, have long held a vision for the town’s future that included fun outdoor activities to encourage residents to venture from their homes. The couple also donated adjacent land for a public library and for Fernland Historical Park, but they were particularly fond of a one-acre pond—previously a ranch’s stock tank—that would become Memory Pond, the focal point of Memory Park.
With help from Mike Meador, commissioner of Montgomery County Precinct One, Corliss O’Shaughnessy, then the Montgomery County Parks director, and Peter Wakefield, a landscape architect, work began. Gradually, the undeveloped property began to look like a park, and the Rotary Club of Lake Conroe began the long-term project of maintaining it. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on improvements around the park,” Philip says. “Lots of people get credit.” On June 28, 2008, Memory Park was dedicated. Philip calls it a “hidden gem.”
A stroll through the park reveals the many facets of this gem. There is a proliferation of native plants, including red yucca, umbrella plants, red oak trees, black haw and honey locust, as well as cultivated species. A series of waterfalls cascades toward the pond, where three islands provide a habitat for waterfowl. Large koi swim in the pond and enjoy being fed fish food or pieces of bread. “Stamp your foot on the bridge,” Philip suggests. “The fish will come, and you can feed them.” (The many turtles in the pond will snatch the food, too.)
“It’s a unique park,” Don says. “Have you ever seen a story walk before?” For The StoryWalk Project, pages of children’s books were reproduced on large signs. By walking around the circle of signs, children can read—or have someone read to them—two classic storybooks. Along the outside of the circle, kids can see the pages of My Dream Dog by Arthur Howard; along the inside, they can read Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, retold and illustrated by Eileen Christelow. The park has permission to use two additional books as well. Nearby, Nanny’s Reading Chair, surrounded by log benches, was also created with children in mind. In addition, there are two Little Free Libraries in the park—one for adults and one for children—where visitors are invited to read books and return them when they’re finished.
Relaxing and quiet
Montgomery resident Kim Tolley has been bringing her five-year-old daughter, Sophia, to Memory Park about once a week for more than two years. “It’s very relaxing and quiet,” Kim says. “We sit on the benches and picnic, and we love to read about the different memorials and learn about different kinds of wildflowers. During the spring when the flowers are in bloom, it’s so pretty. We bring vegetable and fruit scraps to feed the turtles.” Kim and Sophia especially like the lending library and Nanny’s Reading Chair. Their favorite spot, where they like to feed turtles, is an area overlooking the pond that was dedicated to the memory of Wendell Joe Maxedon and Leonard Joe Maxedon.
There are many other memorial tributes to husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, and grandchildren nestled among the trees and foliage in the park. Some plaques honor veterans and wedding anniversaries; others commemorate people who have made contributions that helped create and improve the park. One enormous eagle-topped spire was constructed in honor of the 515 World War II veterans who participated in Lone Star Honor Flight, a project that began in Montgomery.
The Rainbow Bridge Garden is a segment of the park dedicated to the memory of pets who have found a place in the hearts of their people. The name was inspired by William N. Britton’s book, The Legend of Rainbow Bridge, and it is used with the author’s permission. Within the garden are “pet stones,” which are engraved with the names of pets that have crossed the rainbow bridge.
Don visits Memory Park about every other day. As a faithful member of the Rotary Club of Lake Conroe, his trips to the park include maintenance of some kind, whether it’s delivering materials for a small project or making sure plants are adequately watered. “My enjoyment of the park is seeing another project completed,” he says. Still, he has great appreciation for some of the areas of Memory Park. One of his favorites is the Children’s Walls, made up of hundreds of tiles that were decorated by local children. High school students glazed them, Don says, and the tiles were made into two, two-sided walls that beautify one side of the park. Don says with a chuckle that he likes to watch the excited confusion when children try to find the tiles that they decorated themselves.
Of course, when Don arrives at the park, he stops for a while at Shane’s fountain to pay tribute to his late wife. “It’s a quiet park,” he says, noting that there is no playground equipment there. It’s better suited to casual walks, reminiscence and reflection. There are numerous places to sit, to relax, and to take in the cultivated, well-tended beauty of the park. It’s also a great place to take photographs, as many local residents have discovered.
“Sit a spell,” advises one sign at the park. “Take it all in. Hear the sounds of nature. Watch carefully enough, and you just may get to see some of the plants and animals that call Memory Pond home. You will be amazed! Then, when you turn to leave and return home to your niche, remember, no matter how many of the pond’s residents you were lucky enough to meet, you only saw a fraction of those who live here.”
Memory Park accepts donations for future memorials. For more information, pick up a brochure at the park or at the adjacent Charles B. Stewart West Branch Library, or visit lakeconroerotary.org/sitepage/memory-park-project.