Published: December 25, 2011, York Sunday News (PA)
“It never goes away. Why should it go away?” Tears fill her eyes as Cher Kondor talks about the sorrow of losing her son in combat.
That sense of loss, that need for healing has driven her to create the Veterans Memorial Gold Star Healing and Peace Garden in York.
On April 29, 2004, an improvised bomb exploded next to Army Spec. Martin Kondor’s armored vehicle in Iraq. He was just 20 years old, and on that day Cher’s life changed forever.
The Gold Star Garden is planned just off Edgar Street close to the York City Ice Rink and a short distance from the Veterans’ Memorial at the entrance to Veterans’ Memorial Park and the old stadium.
This will be a place in memory of all those who died in combat, not just her son, Cher says. Martin Kondor, however, is the face of the project and his photograph appears on a flyer for the garden. The names of Pennsylvania’s “fallen from World War I through the War on Terror” will be engraved on the walls of the garden, she said.
Susan P. Byrnes, founder of the Health Education Center that bears her name on South George Street, is bringing her enthusiastic support to the Gold Star Garden as a board member. “This garden will benefit our community,” Susie says, “because it is a physical manifestation of healing — like Gettysburg and Arlington. People of all ages will be coming to a living memorial to honor and remember all those who sacrifice and serve and give the ultimate sacrifice for us.”
“This is about York County families doing the right thing,” Susie adds. “it will be a beautiful garden… a place of pride that states York County families honor and remember our military and their families — always and forever.”
The garden will cover an area about the size of Continental Square, Cher says. At its heart will be a large star design surrounded by outdoor “rooms” or meditative spaces. Each room will contain plants and flowers themed in one of seven colors representing “character traits found at the heart of all service personnel,” according to the garden brochure.
The colors and the character traits they represent are: red, courage; orange, duty and service; yellow, remembrance; green, healing; blue, fidelity; purple, valor; and white, honor.
The names of those who died in combat will be engraved on a Vietnam Memorial type wall.
A visit to the garden will mean different things to the individual walking along its paths. The garden is envisioned “as a healing connection for service families or others who need solace,” Cher noted. the garden, described as a “three-dimensional living sculpture,” will be a “place to connect with the energy of the earth as a healing process.” The intention is for it to be “a place of peace, healing, of becoming whole again.”
Susie points out “this will be a world class garden on its own. There is nothing like this anywhere else.”
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In the planning stages since 2007, the $750,000 project has received approximately $250,000 of in-kind donations to date, including engineering and architectural support. Another $100,000 of in-kin contributions is expected during the construction phase.
The remainder of the money will come from fund-raising events and individual contributions.
If all goes according to plan, the Gold Star Garden should be dedicated on June 9, 2012, in time for Flag Day five days later.
Then, perhaps, when she visits the completed garden she designed, Cher Kondor can find — if just for a brief time — respite from the sorrow that never goes away.
At this time of the year, her gift to the community could be a place of peace and healing for all.
Gordon Friedrich is a former editor of the York Sunday News. Read his blog at yorkblog.com/yorkatheart. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.