Memorial mystery sparks parks policy questions

Sometime in early 1993, Carroll Sovereign and step-son Hollis Jackson installed a lattice trellis with climbing roses in the west end of Claggett Creek Park. A plaque set in stone next to the memorial reads: “Donated in memory of Rose Sovereign by family and friends, 1911-1992.”

The only mention of the memorial in city records is a paragraph in minutes from a Parks Advisory Board Meeting on May 11, 1993 (dug up from the archives by Matt Lawyer, a current member of the board). It reads: 

Mr. (Kevin) Wickman reported a lattice archway with climbing roses on both sides has been planted in Claggett park in memory of a Keizer woman by her husband and son. The husband was also willing to donate money toward the manicuring of the area. Ms. (Valerie) Perry suggested the Rose Society be contacted to take care of the roses and perhaps add more bushes.

Carroll Sovereign passed away in Everett, Wash., in 2010 at the age of 96. His obituary in the Everett Herald read: “He was married at various times, but the love of his life was Rose Jackson. During their 28 years of marriage, they shared true fulfillment and happiness.” The city has been unable to locate any other surviving relatives. 

At a certain point in time, the memorial was a heartfelt tribute to a beloved woman. In the decades since it was erected, the shrine has fallen into a state of disrepair. The lattice trellis is rotting away. The tallest branches of the rose bushes rise roughly 14 feet in the air and then slump over. Ivy is doing its best to throttle one of the rose bushes entirely. 

Rose Sovereign’s memorial began raising a host of questions at Keizer Parks Advisory Board meetings in 2019. Aside from launching a quest to figure out where it came from, members of the parks board have wrestled with questions from who performs maintenance duties and whether a donation should continue to be maintained in perpetuity. 

The city has some of the bases covered in existing policy. Donations of trees and amenities such as shelters, tables and benches are already addressed, but the Sovereign memorial fell outside the established guidelines in a few areas: roses require a different type of maintenance than trees, the trellis is not a shelter in the traditional sense and the plaques are not permitted with other “living memorials” for vandalism and maintenance reasons. 

At a meeting of the parks board in on Jan. 14, board members approved updates to Keizer’s park and public space donation policy. The changes are intended to help navigate issues related to the Sovereign memorial and others that arose in recent years. 

The main changes pertain to replacing memorials, assigning maintenance duties to the donor and termination of a monument or memorial. A last minute addition was made to require some sort of statement about the purpose of a memorial during the application process. 

“A write-up would help understand the nexus between the donors and the significance of the memorial and it would stay in the city records,” said Lawyer. 

Such a statement would help future city leaders determine the appropriate termination process when memorials reach the end of their life cycle,” said Dylan Juran another member of the board. 

If adopted by the city, the new policy would state that memorial would be replaced “only under extremely rare and unusual circumstances.” That portion of the change pertains to a previous situation in which sand volleyball courts were replaced at Keizer Rapids. The original courts were installed by an Eagle Scout, but another donor with the financial ability to upgrade the courts replaced them years later. 

Additionally, maintenance of memorial sites would be the duty of the donor while the memorials themselves would become property of the city. Donor families would be given the opportunity to reinvest in the sites so long as current contact information is on-hand at city hall.

The city would also get the right to terminate a memorial when it is damaged or defaced or if applicable laws change. 

As for what will happen with the Sovereign memorial, it is likely facing its demise in the near future. Board Member Tanya Hamilton said it wasn’t a decision to make lightly. 

“I don’t think we should just tear it down. It’s a sensitive topic for a lot of people,” Hamilton said. 

The new policy will permit the city to remove memorials predating the new policy at the end of their “salvageable life span.”