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Loved ones remembered at Rest Haven Cemetery's 20th festival of lights

December 15, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

HAGERSTOWN ? Ed Benningfield was an "awesome" father who loved gardening and only could be teased for planting too many tomato plants and growing the size of the plantings.

Dixi and Lester Smith were "awesome parents. Mom owned the Gateway Crab & Seafood House. Dad delivered mail for the United States Postal Service for 30 years."

Mary Madelene Dixon simply was a "big part" of her family's life. Her great-grandchildren haven't forgotten.

And on Saturday night, the lives of those loved ones and hundreds of others buried at Rest Haven Cemetery off Pennsylvania Avenue were poignantly remembered in the 20th festival of lights at the cemetery.

About 9,000 candles placed in plain white paper bags early Saturday were lighted for the one-night illumination, which was a first for Benningfield's family.

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"It's our first time for my family," said Benningfield's daughter, Donna Spielman of Halfway.

"Dad passed away in October," she said, fighting back tears while sharing memories of her father while standing at his grave site. "It's very hard for us."

Benningfield fought and won "the battle of lung cancer" because of her mother's constant bedside care, Spielman said. Other ailments led to his death, which has been difficult for the family to overcome, she said.

"We've never really had to deal with death," she said toward the end of an hour-long performance by the St. James Brass Quintet in the funeral home at Rest Haven.

The Smiths' daughter, Traci Welch, said the illumination of the candles brings her parents to life, "so to speak."

"We actually look forward to it every year that we come out and do this," Welch said while her son, Todd, and brother, Stewart Smith, continued to light candles.

"It's a good feeling," she added.

Danielle Stoner of Hagerstown said she and her brother, Aaron, have been participating in the festival since their great-grandmother died about five years ago.

"I was in eighth grade," Stoner said while bagpiper David Madock and accordionist Cheryl Kataline played in the distance as the candles were being lighted. "She was a big part of my family and a big part of my life."

Though threatened with inclement weather, Rest Haven owner Charles Brown said the event has been blessed with a throng of volunteers who distribute the bags of sand that anchor white "plumber's candles" throughout the cemetery grounds.

"They are dedicated people," Brown said.

The luminarias were put in place in less than three hours, and Brown said several of the volunteers attend The Good Shepherd Ministries. Brown said the congregation was provided space to meet at Rest Haven's funeral home before their church was built off Longmeadow Road.

"They like to come back and help," Brown said.

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