Angels Among Us: Plano Garden Club Delivers Hope for 20th Year

One late fall afternoon in 1997, Charolette Loncar’s granddaughter, three-year-old Alexandra, sat on the floor of her parents’ garage surveying several Christmas trees, deciding which one would be hers. Without hesitation, she declared, “I want the purple one.”

Alexandra had been diagnosed with a rare sarcoma cancer in March that year. With the holidays approaching, Charolette needed to find a way to make them as happy as possible. She asked her daughter-in-law, Mary Ann, how she and her friends at the Plano Garden Club could help the young patients and their families at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, where her granddaughter was receiving treatment.

After some thought, Mary Ann told her that most families of young cancer patients spend all of their time and energy on their sick child – not thinking about the holidays. So, that year, Charolette and her friends at the Plano Garden Club set up shop in Marilyn’s garage and decorated and delivered 25 Christmas trees.

Charolette Loncar (at left) and Marilyn Winter in 1997, the first year they gathered in Marilyn’s garage to make Christmas trees // courtesy Plano Garden Club

That would be the last Christmas the Loncar family would spend with Alexandra. She died January 13, 1998, at the age of four. This, too, marked a beginning: a mission to ensure that sick kids and their families would have a reminder of joy in the midst of pain.

This November, the ladies are assembling for the 20th time with their miniature Christmas trees, colorful decorations and hot glue guns in hand. There are more of them now, so they gather at Plano’s St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, where the trees are decorated and stored before being delivered to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas and Plano. Last year, they created 150 trees, adorned with everything from makeup to miniature teddy bears and toys.

A member of Plano Garden Club decorating one of “Alexandra’s Trees” // photos Jennifer Shertzer

Once decorated, the trees must pass an “upside down” test to ensure that all ornaments are firmly in place. “I’m a stickler about turning the tree upside down,” says Charolette. Then, they’re sprayed with a fire retardant, placed in new, sterile bags and delivered to the hospitals, where children get to pick their favorite. The kids are also given caps that are knit for them by hand.

A couple of years ago, Charolette was setting up in the hospital playroom and noticed a nurse who had been studying her from a distance, so she introduced herself. “I remember you,” the woman replied. “I was Alexandra’s nurse. She was quite a strong girl.”

It seems fitting that some of that strength was passed down through Charolette, a native Texan, who reared all four of her children in Plano. She joined the Plano Garden Club in 1982. “That’s 35 years,” she says. “We have one member who’s been there a little longer – 42 years.”

Just some of the members of Plano Garden Club who gathered together on the 20th year of decorating trees

For Charolette, this tradition has created a bond – with the ladies in her club, her family and the patients. One year, she recalls, she and her son, Frank Jr., were delivering a tree to a teenage girl. They had been advised by hospital staff that the young lady wasn’t talking to anyone. When they entered the room with the tree, the girl surprised them by speaking. She asked Charolette for a hug.

A young patient at Children’s Medical Center in Plano accepting a tree in 2016

It’s a reminder that there is great power in these gifts. They’re a symbol of hope and a promise that those confined in hospitals, far away from the hustle and bustle of the holidays, have not been forgotten.

Twenty years later, what would Alexandra think about the tradition that’s been carried on in her name? “Oh, yes, I believe in angels,” says Charolette. “I tell people that she’s up there and pointing her finger at me saying, ‘Grandma, keep doing this.’”

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