Troy Mayor Ethan Baker, Community Affairs Director Cindy Stewart and Mayor Pro Tem Theresa Brooks stand in front of City Hall, where white flags have been placed to honor residents’ lives lost to COVID-19.

Troy Mayor Ethan Baker, Community Affairs Director Cindy Stewart and Mayor Pro Tem Theresa Brooks stand in front of City Hall, where white flags have been placed to honor residents’ lives lost to COVID-19.

Photo by Jonathan Shead


Troy, Oakland County commemorate one year since pandemic arrived

White flags, tribute walk memorialize lives lost

By: Jonathan Shead | C&G Newspapers | Published March 10, 2021

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TROY/OAKLAND COUNTY — This time last year, many Michiganders across the state were hearing for the first time that the novel coronavirus had arrived in Michigan.

The pandemic has left lives flipped upside down, caused jobs to be upended, shuttered many of the nation’s businesses, and most importantly, taken half a million and rising American lives since it officially touched down Jan. 21, 2020, in the nation.

The first COVID-19 cases in Michigan were announced March 10, after two Michigan residents tested presumptive positive in Oakland and Wayne counties.

On Feb. 26, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the lowering of flags across the state to honor the 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 across the United States.

“My heart is with the families of loved ones who passed away from this vicious virus,” Whitmer said in a press release. “Our nation grieves as we continue the fight to eradicate COVID-19. The quickest way out of the pandemic is through equitable distribution of the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. That’s why we are encouraging every Michigander to make a plan to get vaccinated when a vaccine becomes available. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we will get through this pandemic together.”

Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist asked Michiganders to acknowledge the one-year anniversary of the pandemic 8-9 p.m. March 10 by turning on their exterior home lights.

“This virus has changed almost every aspect of our daily lives, but despite its darkness, we have seen the brightest light shine in the determined resolve of each other during these trying times,” Gilchrist said in a press release. “The simple act of turning on our lights is a way to remember and honor those we have lost, and show that we’re all in this together and we will emerge from this crisis, together.”

Troy and Oakland County officials are also stepping in to provide ways residents can continue to commemorate and memorialize the lives lost closer to home.

 

White flags fly for lives lost
Troy City Council members approved a proclamation at their Feb. 22 meeting, which was read March 8, after press time, to honor and commemorate the Troy residents who have passed away from COVID-19. As of Feb. 22, the city had 109 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

Troy Mayor Ethan Baker said the pandemic really began to hit home for him when the first Troy resident passed away.

“It became very real at that point. I remember telling people sometime during the summer, I don’t know the timing exactly, we had lost 59 Troy residents. That number was flooring people throughout the community when I talked to them, because they just didn’t realize … it’s everywhere and it’s in our communities.”

Credit for wanting to do something to commemorate the city’s residents who have passed away from the virus goes to Mayor Pro Tem Theresa Brooks, a doctor at a local hospital, Baker said.

City Council members have lined the front facade of City Hall, facing Big Beaver Road, with 109 white flags to honor and commemorate the 109 residents.

“I don’t think any of us can individually begin to understand your pain, or we don’t all know your individual stories, but I want (the residents) to know that the mayor, City Council, our city staff and the wonderful neighbors of this community hold you in our hearts and are always here for you if you need us,” Baker said.

Baker himself has felt the loss of someone he was close to from COVID-19. His neighbor, an elderly man, recently passed away due to complications with the virus.

“He’s one of 500,000, and when you put it like that, it doesn’t sound like much, but you realize the gravity of every single one of those people. Everybody has a story. Everybody has a friend, family and relationship that are affected,” he said. “At that point, it becomes easier for more people to know somebody who’s been affected by it.”

The proclamation is also a call to action as a leader to address the realities in order to heal, Baker said.

“I think leaders need to lead by example. In order for the rest of our community to look at the gravity of it and acknowledge those who have been affected, and those lives that have been lost, we have to start at the top to do that and demonstrate that it’s a reality, and we are a community in good times and bad,” he said. “While this is certainly a bad time, the more we can be on the same page as far as understanding the hurt that’s going on in our city, the better we’ll be able to move forward when we’re at a point where COVID is more in our rearview mirror.”

 

Lighted tribute walk honors COVID deaths
The commemorations extend beyond the white flags displayed at Troy City Hall to Waterford Oaks County Park, 1702 Scott Lake Road, where Oakland County and County Parks and Recreation officials are hosting a half-mile immersive and interactive light trail for residents to visit, reflect and remember those who have passed away since the pandemic began.

“We need this moment to remember and express our feelings as a community after enduring a year of pandemic challenges, heartbreak and even instances of inspiration,” County Executive Dave Coulter said in a press release. “The Tribute Walk will remind us of the lives who shine brightly whether they are still with us or have passed, and will give us a glimpse of what we have to be thankful for as we move forward together past the pandemic.”

The tribute walk opened at 6 p.m. March 10, after press time, with a special virtual live ceremony slated with a few keynote speakers, one of whom was Brandy Boyd, a parks and recreation employee who lost both of her parents to COVID-19. The event was slated to be live broadcast on the county executive’s Facebook page.

The trail opened to the public March 11 for preregistration for a limited number of tickets from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. March 15-21. Tickets are being sold in 30-minute increments, through 9:30 p.m. Admission costs $5 per person. Streamed video content will also be made available on Facebook for viewers who can’t visit the tribute walk in person.

“Oakland County Parks and Recreation is honored to host the Oakland Together COVID-19 Tribute Walk and have one of our parks become a place of remembrance and solace for those who have lost family and friends during the pandemic,” Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Gary McGillivray said in a press release.

The trail is put together in part by Bluewater Technologies, known for creating the Glenlore Trails.

Three interactive tribute displays will be open to ticket holders.

Outside of Lookout Lodge, visitors will be able to hang photos of their loved ones lost to COVID-19, as well as add their name to a large yellow heart, black ribbon sign — the symbol for those lost to COVID-19. A message board to give thanks and express gratitude for frontline workers will also be available. After the tribute walk closes, each display will become a memorial that will be displayed across the county’s government campus.

Online remembrance and gratitude story maps are available to those wishing to honor a friend or loved one. Visit oakgov.com/covid/tribute/Pages/default.aspx to view and contribute to the story maps.

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