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How the Tree of Lights Started

This year, we would like to share our gratitude for Winifred Louise Varco Haagensen, known to friends as “Win.” In 1986, Hospice East Bay (then called Hospice and Palliative Care of Contra Costa County) cared for Win’s husband, Ed Haagensen. She was so grateful for the care he received that she began a tradition that lives on thirty years later.

“When my husband Ed had cancer in 1985, we called Hospice of Contra Costa, and they were his lifeline for his final days. I felt like I had to do something lasting for hospice, so in May of 1986 some friends and I formed the San Ramon Valley Hospice Support Group to educate the community and raise funds for hospice.”

Through this organization, Win created our first ever Tree of Lights ceremony in Danville. Every November for nineteen years—rain or shine—she sat at her donations table at the Livery, distributing hospice information and organizing the Danville tree-lighting ceremonies. Between 1996 and 1999 the number of trees grew from 3 to 14, though we have pared it back a little in the years since.  

For her work, Win was repeatedly recognized by the city and the state, and the State Legislature proclaimed Nov. 29, 1991, to be Winifred Haagensen Day in Contra Costa County. The town of Danville recognized her with an Award of Merit for her dedicated service, and the state also honored her as Woman of the Year in 1987. Mrs. Haagensen died peacefully at home on Aug. 9, 2007, at the age of 90.

Today we have tree-lighting ceremonies in 11 locations throughout Contra Costa County. We are so grateful to Win for establishing a beautiful tradition that provides such meaningful closure to friends and family members while raising funds for hospice care.

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