‘Angel Alley’ in Mason memorializes children who died; dedication ceremony set for today

WARREN COUNTY — Angel Alley in downtown Mason is a special place that’s been created to remember and honor local children who have passed away. There will be a dedication ceremony for Angel Alley at 5 p.m. today.

“This has brought a lot of joy to the community…We needed something like this. It’s a place for people to go. Not only to remember the kids, but just a place to enjoy,” said Jennifer Winter, founder and creator of Angel Alley.

As part of the celebration, community members may paint a “Kindness Rock,” which may be left in Angel Alley. The event is free and open to the public.

“We are hoping to have the majority of families here represented. And, we’re expecting to have some local establishments bring food out for the event as well,” said Winter.

Angel Alley is dedicated in memory of the children from Mason City School District that were lost too soon. The centerpiece of Angel Alley is a large set of angel wings depicted on a wall mural with a colorful umbrella canopy overhead. The hope is that the alley will bring joy to the families of these angels and to others who pass by. It’s also a colorful spot to capture photos.

“It gives people a place to not only remember the angels that were lost too soon, but it gives everybody a little bit of hope that there’s still is kindness in the world. I think that’s the most important thing,” Winter said.

Hundreds of people have already spent time in the alley, remembering the children, and taking pictures. The community response has been overwhelming.

“First of all, our community has been amazing. We had reached out to the community before we even started the project to try to raise money, so we could truly make it a community project, and within three or four days, we had raised exactly the amount of money that we needed to get the mural done, and get the umbrellas hung,” Winter said.

Around $4,300 was raised, which paid for the mural, and the supplies for the umbrellas and lights. Natorp’s Nursery also donated landscaping rock for the landscaping project. A fence was also put up around the air-conditioning unit.

“I had seen on Facebook and other places, where there are different umbrella alley’s, and there’s one up North. I would show Mark the pictures and I always wanted to go and see one. But then one day, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if we turned our own alley into an umbrella alley,” said Winter.

Later, on a day when she was out for a walk, Jennifer said she was thinking about the colors of the umbrellas, and what they could signify, such as pink for Sable, like “Shine Like Sable,” for Sable Gibson, who was witty, full of kindness, and she loved the color pink, or blue for “Live Like Maya,” for Maya Collins, who was funny and full of life, who gained her angel wings on October 3, 2017, and then, a darker blue for “Love Like JJ,” a Mason third-grader, JJ Day, who inspired others to love.

“I thought about those kids and others like them. We’re good friends with Bonnie Collins, Maya’s Mom, so I reached out to her to see what she thought, and I found out that there’s a bereaved mom’s group in Mason, and they get together once a month. So, she was having her meeting with them that evening and she pitched it to the moms’, and they absolutely loved the idea. They were touched that we had thought about dedicating this alley to them. So, that’s how it all started,” explained Winter.

Winter and Collins also brainstormed about what they envisioned for the angel wings.

“We didn’t just want traditional, white angel wings. We wanted something that looked more like stained glass than anything,” Winter said.

There are more children honored and remembered in the alley than the number of actual umbrellas, but Winter said the umbrellas collectively symbolize the brightness of kids and they also help to make the alley a bright spot for people to come and walk through, she said.

The children’s names are displayed on the 60-ft. long by about 11-ft. high mural. Viewers will also see some of the significant symbols that are meaningful to many of the families. Graffiti artists David Uy and Brian Beck completed the mural.

“Most of the families have a symbol that’s special to them that signifies their child that was lost. So, you’ll see a dragonfly for Maya. You’ll see a pink heart for Sable, and you’ll see a blue heart for JJ…So, some of those are part of the mural,” Winter said.

The mural incorporates white, memorial bricks into the design. Each one of the bricks have a child’s first and last name with birth and death dates, and their special symbol. To date, the mural includes the names of 34 kids who have passed away since 2004. In 18 years, 34 children have passed away.

“Basically, the whole wall represents the children. It’s fun, and bright, and we want to celebrate their lives, and not make it a morbid thing,” Winter said.

The name “Angel Alley” truly depicts what it is, said Winter.

“It is Angel Alley, because of all of these angels that are being represented on the wall. Mark and I can feel their presence when we’re in there. For us to accomplish what we did, literally, in a five-day period, we couldn’t have done it without some help from above,” she said. “These angels were helping us every step of the way, and I think they’re still there.”

“When we were working the project, JJ’s Dad, John Day, and I were standing there, and I looked up at the lights, and we didn’t plan this, but when I looked down the alley from end to end, all the lights were lined up perfectly,” Mark Winter said. “And I told John, ‘We had help today,’ I said, ‘There’s no way we could have gotten this done if we didn’t have help.”

There’s a different feeling that you have when you go through Angel Alley, he said.

In addition to the mural that runs the length of the building, and an umbrella canopy, Angel Alley will be surrounded by landscaping and there’s a painted bench for visitors to sit on. AlphaGraphics donated the design of each child’s brick, which was done in vinyl. The white bricks are part of the installation and serve as a memorial for each child. Each child has a brick on the wall. There’s also space to add additional names of children. The bricks serve as a “dedication wall.”

The 21 umbrellas are weather resistant, UV rated umbrellas, so they shouldn’t fade, said Winter, and they do plan to close the umbrellas during bad weather. The umbrellas will be replaced if they get damaged or torn in the future.

The Winter’s are residents of Mason, and they own Bed Bug Solutions and Solutions Plus Pest Control in Mason at 312 W. Main Street. The backside of the building is where Angel Alley was created. The mural, intended for school-aged children in the Mason City School District, sits between 312 and 316 W Main Street in Mason. The Winter’s have twins that graduated from Mason High School in 2021.

“We’ve seen a lot of tragedy in our community, and we just felt like there needed to be a place where these kids were not forgotten,” said Winter.

She hopes the project has a “trickle down” effect in the community, where other business owners will start putting works of art on their buildings, or creating their own alleyways, and that other towns would be inspired to create Angel Alleys for their school districts.

“With so much hate going on in the world, and everybody being so divided, this has been amazing to watch. Our community has not only supported the project, but we’ve been able to watch everyone come together and enjoy something bright,” Winter said. “Unfortunately, it’s not a good reason why we have an Angel Alley, because a lot of kids lost their lives, but at least we’re able to honor them and pay tribute to them in the alley and give the community a nice place to go.”

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