For 10 years a tree has stood as a memorial at East LaFollette Elementary School in honor of Michael Reneman, a LaFollette student whose life was cut short due to a tragic accident.
A Bradford Pear tree and plaque are both firmly rooted in the ground to memorialize the son, brother, friend and student who passed away on June 4, 1998.
Last week, Michael’s mother, Gina Reneman, was faced with a multitude of emotion when the tree was cut low to the trunk without an explanation.
“It grew and flourished just like Michael’s memory,” said Reneman. “Now, when I look at it, it’s just a reminder of how his life was cut short.”
While sitting on a park bench at East LaFollette School with Michael’s tree behind her, Reneman’s eyes welled with tears. She again was haunted by the unfortunate accident that claimed her son’s life.
The memorial tree, which once stood around 20 feet tall, is only a stubby five feet with a few thick branches cut haphazardly.
“I know this is city property, but in my mind it’s Michael’s tree,” said Reneman.
Director of Adult Education Rita Goins has taken full responsibility for the pruning of Michael’s tree.
“I can’t change anything that happened already,” said Goins. “Had I realized it would upset her this much I would not have pruned it that much.”
To Reneman , the cutting or pruning of the tree has been a symbolic reminder of the short life span of her son. However, Goins said she believes the tree will come back and flourish again.
“I think in about a year it will come back,” said Goins. “I’m trying everything I can to fix it.”
While the LaFollette Elementary School has changed locations the tree still stands as a memorial where Michael Reneman attended school and impacted the lives of his teachers and fellow classmates.
While legally it is not the responsibility of the adult education program director to upkeep the trees planted by the previous school attendees, Goins said she wants to take care of the tree personally now that she knows its importance.
“We are not obsessed,” said Reneman. “But the tree brought us happiness.”
As Reneman’s eyes again filled with tears she said, “You don’t bury a little 10-year-old boy without holding onto something.”
Reneman said while the tree may bloom again, it would never be the full tree it once was.
“When you loose a child you hold onto whatever you can and this was a tree that grew and flourished,” said Reneman.