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Campus living memorial of 2 trees celebrates couple’s 50-year marriag

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The five adult children of Norman and Viola Lovegren wanted to do “something unique” to commemorate their parents’ golden anniversary and the determination it takes to make 50 years of marriage work.
Through e-mails, faxes and telephone calls, “the kids” connected from points across the country and secretly devised a plan to make a living donation of two trees to be planted on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The oak trees would be planted on the campus both as an homage to their parents’ marital accomplishment and as a symbol to other couples.
While some people might not think “romance” when they look at two oak trees, the Lovegren children grew up in New Orleans with that powerful image in their backyard.
“I can remember them, two individual trees, separate at the trunk, but each enveloped completely in the canopy of the other,” said one of the Lovegren children, who wishes to remain anonymous. “The trees were individuals at their base, but as they grew taller and spread out, it was nearly impossible to tell one from the other.”
The Lovegrens see their oak trees as “a unique symbol of marriage,” said the father of the five children and a retired research chemist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture offices in New Orleans.
Originally planted about a foot apart when each tree was about six feet tall, “over the years, these two trees grew together, intertwined and became one,” Norman Lovegren said. And as a symbol of his own marriage, “the two trees are now more stable together than either could be apart from the other.”
His wife sees the trees with the same perspective. “We started out apart and grew together over the years,” Viola Lovegren said. While she does not hesitate to acknowledge reality — “We’ve not always agreed on everything” — she eagerly admits that “like those trees, we’ve stuck together.”
Despite the normal and even unusual difficulties that every married couple inevitably will face, “Don’t give in to the urge to just give up and walk away,” Viola Lovegren challenges other couples, speaking from her 50 years of experience.
The Lovegrens have served many years as mentors in the young married adult Sunday school classes at New Orleans’ First Baptist Church, where they have been members the past 50 years. Other members of the church believe the number of marriages and the impact the Lovegrens have had on those marriages through their witness and kind words cannot easily be measured.
In a letter to NOBTS President Chuck Kelley and his wife, Rhonda, the Lovegren children expressed hope that the trees planted May 11 on the seminary campus “could serve as a quiet encouragement to stressed seminary students to persevere and to stay the course” in their marriage commitment.
“What a powerful way both to enhance the beauty of this campus and to remind generations of ministers to come of the significance and joy of a healthy marriage,” Kelley said.
According to the Lovegren children, who hail from as far away as Detroit, Denver and McAllen, Texas, and as close to home as Slidell, La., the family has a rich heritage of unity and commitment. “I recall that we always ate our meals together and spent an extended summer vacation together,” said one of the Lovegren children. “We grew up together as a family, and our parents’ marriage and staying together always played a part in that.”
Over the years, the two anniversary oak trees — strategically planted a few feet from each other by the library on the New Orleans Seminary campus — will have gracefully arching branches that will extend to meet each other over the sidewalk that runs between them, with their roots mingling unseen beneath the path.
With those new oaks and the aged oaks in her yard in mind, Viola Lovegren charges couples at NOBTS and everywhere: “Like those trees, stick together.”
The tribute to the Lovegrens was facilitated by the seminary’s development office, at 3939 Gentilly Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70126-4858 or 1-800-NOBTS-01, ext. 3252.

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  • Joe David Smith