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Hurricane stricken oak tree reborn as an angel

Updated: May. 10, 2021 at 8:55 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Many beautiful old trees were lost in Hurricane Laura.

One was an oak tree on Ryan Street in front of Hixson Funeral home. The spectacular oak was an estimated sixty years old and believed to have been planted in 1962 when the funeral home moved from Broad Street to 3001 Ryan Street in Lake Charles.

Then again, maybe the tree is not really lost.

“It was a beautiful, large majestic oak tree,” said Jody Barrilleaux, a Hixson employee.

The massive oak, itself a landmark, was no match for Hurricane Laura.

“Whenever Hurricane Laura came through, she took our beautiful tree down with her,” Barrilleaux said.

There was nothing to do but clear away the debris, leaving only a stump, but then they decided to commission artist Della Meredith of LaPorte, Texas. She worked with chain saws and a grinder.

“She had three chain saws, and she just goes to work. She started before 7 o’clock every morning,” said Rusty Rougeou, location manager.

“It was a secret. We weren’t telling anyone what it was going to be,” Barrilleaux said.

For two days Meredith cut away excess wood and finally revealed a beautifully carved angel, kneeling with hands folded in prayer.

“There was once a beautiful oak tree, and now the real identity is revealed and it’s an angel,” said Rougeou.

For a community aching for signs of progress, the oak angel is a welcome sight.

“It’s something we are able to give to the community to show hope for every day.” Rougeou said.

The angel shows that in times of great loss there are blessings.

“It’s going to represent turning a tragedy into an inspiration,” Barrilleaux said.

That beauty can transcend destruction.

“Something that was so horrible, turned into a work of art, a beautiful work of art,” Barrilleaux said.

Employees gathered and Deacon Fred Reed of St. John Bosco in Westlake blessed the oak angel.

“We ask God’s blessing that it will last for many, many years. Even more years than she was here before,” the deacon said.

They find joy and comfort knowing, hidden in the wood, ”that angel was there the whole time,” Barrilleaux said.

Hixson officials say people are welcome to drive through the circle at the funeral home to say a prayer or reflect on the oak angel. In the future, they plan to add a plaque, flowers and lights to make the carving visible at night.

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