Phi Kappa Phi Leaders, Staff Plant Tree to Honor Members Lost to COVID-19

Danny Heitman
Mar 22, 2022
Phi Kappa Phi Executive Director and CEO Bradley Newcomer, fourth from left, leads board members and staff at the Society national office in a tree planting ceremony to remember the lives of members lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 21, the staff of Phi Kappa Phi’s national office gathered in its garden to plant a tree in honor of members around the world who have died in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joined by Society Past President Missy Hopper and President-Elect Lora Becker, the staff heard words of remembrance, shared solemn music and took turns casting soil over a pond cypress that will stand as a testament to those lost in the global health crisis.

The idea of the ceremony was developed during a meeting of Phi Kappa Phi’s Board of Directors last autumn. “This tree for me symbolizes hope,” Hopper told listeners. “I look forward to coming back and seeing it grow.”

It’s still unclear how many Phi Kappa Phi members have died as a result of the pandemic. According to official estimates, COVID-19 has claimed more than five million people across the world.

In his remarks at the tree planting ceremony, Phi Kappa Phi CEO and Executive Director Brad Newcomer said that reports of member deaths to the national office have climbed significantly over the past two years. He noted that the pandemic sometimes brought delays in health care that caused other fatalities.

“Although not all of these deaths are directly caused by COVID-19, many are related to the pandemic,” Newcomer told his staff. “The planting of this tree is a symbolic gesture that allows us to pause, reflect, and honor those members lost to – and during – the pandemic.”

Newcomer thanked Phi Kappa Phi’s board for developing the tree planting ceremony. “It also allows us to remember our many members who have labored – and struggled – on the front lines and behind the scenes fighting the pandemic,” he added.

Pond cypresses are known for their adaptability, resilience, and steadfastness – all qualities at the heart of Phi Kappa Phi’s long history. The ceremony affirmed the Society’s commitment to grow its memorial tree – and Phi Kappa Phi – as a tribute to members lost during the pandemic.

Phi Kappa Phi Enrollment Manager Kay White and Assistant Director of Chapter Services Edward White sang Abide With Me, a popular hymn of solemn reflection, to conclude the ceremony. The song, which touches on the power of resolve through both “cloud and sunshine,” pointed to the highs and lows of the past two years.

The day of the memorial tree planting ceremony was bright and clear. Attendees paused for a moment of silence in the sunny morning to honor lives lost in Phi Kappa Phi’s global community.

A plaque will be placed near the trunk of the new pond cypress. It will read:
In memory of Phi Kappa Phi members whose lives were lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. May they rest in eternal peace. 
Dedicated by the Board of Directors and Staff of The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi on March 21, 2022.