Niagara Gazette

July 29, 2013

Hyde Park tree planted in memory of boy's last wish

By Michele DeLuca michele.deluca@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A young teen who dreamed of seeing Niagara Falls before he died, has been remembered by his family and friends with a memorial tree planted in his name in Hyde Park.

Robert “Greg” Nelams III, 14, of Wildwood, Fla., died on April 8, about a week after a foundation paid the way for his family to see Niagara Falls. The experience at the edge of the raging waters was everything he hoped it would be, according to his mom, Beth McGrath.

“None of us had ever seen it, and it lived up to his expectations,” Beth said of her son, who family called Greg. “He loved it.”

The boy was born with cancer of the nervous system, which was successfully treated with chemotherapy. He was cancer free at age 3, but that treatment caused bone cancer in 2008. He was battling that cancer when he died of an infection on April 8, while visiting extended family in New York City.

“Anything and everything that could happen to someone, if it could go wrong, it went wrong,” she said of her son. “He had a very hard existence, but he was always happy and happy to be around his family. He was the most wonderful of God’s creation.”

The tree was the idea of two family friends, who contacted the Chamber of Commerce of Niagara Falls for help in purchasing a memorial.

The chamber’s executive director, Candra Thomason, got the wheels rolling to get a tree planted through the city’s memorial tree program.

“To me the whole story is about what we take for granted,” said Thomason. “It boggles my brain to think that a 14-year-old would choose to visit Niagara Falls as his last request.”

Thomas contacted Glenn Choolokian, city council chairman, who further moved the process forward. “We were sad about the story, but he did have a special place in our heart because he loved Niagara Falls,” said Choolokian, who was at the park Tuesday when a plaque was installed near the tree. “It’s a peaceful, beautiful, place,” he added of the tree’s location.  

John Caso, the city’s deputy director of the department of public works, said the city has had a memorial tree program in place for over 20 years. “The only thing people have to pay for is the tree,” he said, noting the rate is about $250 to $400 and that trees can be placed for any reason in any of the city parks. Just recently, he added, friends of a woman who hit a hole-in-one, had a tree planted on the Hyde Park Golf Course, noting her achievement and the date.

But, most often, the trees are planted in memory of a loved one, and Greg’s tree, near the plaque with his name and birthdate engraved on it, has brought his mother some comfort. The six-foot maple tree is located at Robinson Drive and Michigan Avenue in the park. Now, her son will always be a part of the city he finally got to see with his mom, his sister, Nakiyah, 12, and his dad, Robert Nelams Jr. at his side.

“My baby got to see what he wanted with those he loved most,” his mom said.