MIAMI– Dennis Foster’s holiday season was shattered after finding his mother’s Christmas tree stolen from her grave at Miami G.A.R. Cemetery on Dec. 3.
The tree was approximately 6 feet tall and was located close to the highway at the north end of the cemetery.
“It was at least 100 feet from the fence,” Foster said. “It was well-lit underneath of a street light, but people don’t necessarily look that way when they’re driving by.”
His mother, Vivian Foster, was born and raised in Commerce. Vivian lived until she was 88-years-old and Christmas was her favorite holiday.
“My mom’s favorite day of the year was Christmas, and she always looked forward to it,” Foster said. “The day after Thanksgiving is when she put up the Christmas tree and then the day after Christmas was the day it came down like clockwork. She always loved that tree.”
Foster said he had promised his mother before she passed that he would put up a Christmas tree in her honor every year. Since she died, he has put up a Christmas tree by her grave every year for the past 13 years.
“I promised her then that as long as I’m alive and I could get around, I will see that you have a Christmas tree every year,” Foster said. “This was the 13th year that I put up a big tree out there for her.”
The lights that decorated the tree were solar powered and purchased from Australia. Approximately 450 bulbs twinkled on the tree and changed colors. Foster said he would sit out in front of the tree and reminisce about the times he had with his parents.
“I bought two sets of them about seven or eight years ago,” Foster said. “It looked so good from the road. I put it up on Dec. 1, and I would go out every night to check and make sure that the solar panel had charged and the lights came on. I wanted it lit every night for her. I told my wife that night that I got the lights on tree arranged the best that I’ve ever done in years past.”
The tree had only been on display for two days before it was stolen. Foster said he had noticed the tree missing Saturday morning on his way to Wal-Mart.
“I was driving to Wal-Mart, looked over to the cemetery, and it was gone- the tree, the lights, everything,” Foster said. “They stole everything. I was so broken hearted, not so much for the loss of the items, but for my mom.”
Foster said that Christmas was a significant holiday for their family and they always made it a point to see each other on Christmas day. He had served as a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force but did not let that stop him from seeing his family for the holiday.
“It was a time that we were always together, without fail,” Foster said. “It didn’t matter where I was in the United States,” Foster said. “I was in the Air Force in my younger days during Vietnam, but I always made it home for Christmas. It’s what my mom looked forward to, and that’s what Christmas is all about to her- family.”
The only thing left at the gravesite was the base for the tree. Foster believes the tree might have been pitched or dumped in the trash.
“There’s no way they could stand the tree up without the base unless they made something for it, which people are too lazy to do in this day and age,” Foster said. “They most likely just stole the lights and chucked it in a ditch somewhere.”
After realizing the tree had been stolen, Foster notified the cemetery about the theft to prevent other people from going through the same ordeal. He drove around the cemetery looking for a deserted tree but had no luck.
“I rode around the cemetery in case they dumped it and asked the workers if they had seen it,” Foster said. “The lady at the cemetery was overwhelmed, and I know whatever you put out there is your own risk. They’re not responsible for theft. We’re just so fortunate to have a cemetery like the one we have. Most cemeteries have gates and those stay locked at night. We’re lucky to have one where we can go visit every night.”
Foster said that this is his third incident of theft at the cemetery and has had smaller items stolen or damaged. G.A.R. Cemetery Manager Fred Billups said that theft is a common occurrence at the graveyard.
“Thefts at the cemetery happen off and on, unfortunately,” Billups said. “About all we can do is file a police report. We’re 86 acres, so it’s hard to put cameras up or anything like that. Theft happens, and it’s very unfortunate.”
Billups said his recommendation for setting out items at the cemetery is to put your name on it in case someone wishes to return it.
“The best thing you can do is put your name on it, and unfortunately that just means if it does get stolen, hopefully, they can bring it back to you,” Billups said. “What you hear a lot that happens is someone steal something, and they resell it online. It’s not like going to a flea market here in town, it’s going across the country. There’s not a whole lot that you can do.”
The tree was worth approximately $125, and Foster filed a police report with Miami PD. Cemetery staff said the grounds are patrolled at least once a night by law enforcement.
Two days later, Foster made an effort to put up another tree, this one only 4 feet tall, so his mother could look forward to Christmas.
“I worked all day the following Saturday putting another small tree together and finally getting it out in place Sunday evening,” Foster said. “It would not surprise me to see it stolen by the same people. I just cannot understand what kind of person or people would stoop so low that they would steal off a gravesite. To me, that is the ultimate disrespect for another person, living or deceased. This is the third incident of theft I have experienced at G.A.R. It isn’t their fault by any means, nor do I blame them. We should be glad that we can enter the cemetery after hours as many lock their gates and do not allow such.”
Foster said he is willing to offer a reward for additional information or leads on the tree theft.
“I would offer a nice reward for anyone that would be willing to call the Miami Police Department with information that would help catch these people and stop such things from happening again,” Foster said. “I just do not understand the mentality of a person that could do this.”
Miami Police Department can be reached at 918-542-5585.