Angel Alley honors memories of local children

Angel Alley honors Mason children who have passed away.

Drew Hoffmaster | The Chronicle

Breathing life into the bleak alley behind their business is important to local business owners Jennifer and Mark Winter. They were inspired by an artistic phenomenon on social media called Umbrella Alleys, an alley with colorful umbrellas strung across the top. Jennifer Winter said that she fell in love with the idea and wanted to implement the concept in the Mason community.

Angel Alley is dedicated to honoring Mason children who have passed away. The Winters felt they could create an artistic space where the memory of these children could be preserved while also creating a tranquil space for families and community members to peacefully reflect. 

The alley features an angel wing mural with colorful umbrellas and lights strung across the top. The Winters installed seating for people to help make the space more comfortable. Jennifer Winter said that they hope that this project will be more than just a memorial. 

“The alley is a beautiful art project,” Jennifer Winter said. “We want people to come and enjoy it, sit and relax, take pictures and spend time with their family.”

Over the past few years several children who attended Mason City Schools have passed away, leaving a void in the lives of their families and friends. After their deaths, the families of JJ Day and Sable Gibson created nonprofit foundations with the goal of sharing meaningful stories of their lost loved ones while also supporting those in the community who are going through similar experiences. Jennifer Winter said that they wanted to support the nonprofits’ missions while creating a physical place where the children could be honored. 

“The colors of the umbrellas signify the different children who have passed on,” Jennifer Winter said. “For Shine Like Sable, it is pink, and, for Love Like JJ, it is blue.”

The creation of Angel Alley has been therapeutic for the Winter family, who have also dealt with grief from watching some of their own close friends deal with the loss of a child. Mark Winter said that he cannot imagine the heartache the families of the dead have gone through. The Winters said that they hope that Angel Alley can provide the families some comfort in the grieving process.

“Grief hits you right in the gut,” Mark Winter said. “It makes us happy that we are able to do something special for the families.”

JJ Day passed away in January 2021 when he was only nine years old. JJ’s older sister and sophomore at MHS, Madison Day, said that she believes that Angel Alley is a way to help preserve JJ’s smiles that he created throughout Mason.

“[The alley] keeps a piece of him in our community,” said Madison Day. “If our family moves, he will still be a part of the community. He won’t ever truly leave.”

Families of the deceased only have pictures, videos, and memories to remember them by. Madison Day and her family hope to witness the creation of more projects like this in the community so her family can have more ways to remember the joy JJ brought to their lives.

Maya Collins died in 2017 at the age of 14 after a long battle with leukemia. Collins’ close friend, MHS Alum Rilee Malloy (Class of 2021), said that Collins had a magnetic personality that everyone wanted to be around.

Malloy said that the existence of Angel Alley does not mean anything unless the community knows about it. It is very important to her for people to share the stories of those who have passed and keep their memories alive.

“It brings the community together to reflect and think about how although the kids weren’t on this earth for long, they made such a big impact,” Malloy said.

Malloy said that she believes that the alley makes her feel like she and others who are grieving are supported by the Mason community.  

“The community and its people are all supportive,” Malloy said. “The alley means so much and makes my heart very full.”

The official community opening of Angel Alley is on October 28. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. The alley is located between Bed Bug Solutions, owned and operated by the Winters, and the Mason Deerfield Chamber on West Main Street.

Photos by Drew Hoffmaster

Check out photos from the Grand Opening of the alley here.