Nolan Gallion III, who died in January at age 24 from a heroin overdose and has become one of the faces of Harford County's campaign against its scourge of drug addiction, was honored Saturday with a tree planted on the grounds of the day care operated by his family's church.
At least 30 of Mr. Gallion's relatives, including his parents, two sisters and grandparents, as well as extended family members and friends of the family, gathered around the weeping cherry sapling that had been planted near the Churchville Presbyterian Church day care center.
The Rev. Dr. Stephen Melton, the church's pastor, led the brief memorial service.
"We pray, oh Lord, for the memory of Nolan, knowing he lives on in so many ways in the people who knew him and the things he did and the love he shared," Melton said. "We pray, oh Lord, that the life of this tree itself will be an indication of how those memories will go on for a long, long time."
Melton said Mr. Gallion, who struggled with a heroin addiction for several years, is now "sitting under the shade of the Tree of Life, enjoying the fruits of eternity."
"If he could speak to us, you can be sure he would tell us to care about one another, to take life seriously but not so seriously that we don't enjoy it," the pastor continued.
Mr. Gallion was the son of Sandra and Nolan Gallion Jr., of Churchville. His father is the past fire chief of the Level Volunteer Fire Company, and his mother is the past EMS captain and current vice president of the board.
Mr. Gallion served with Level, and he was a member of the Susquehanna Hose Company, of Havre de Grace, when he died.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, a member of Level and friend of the Gallion family, discussed the death of Mr. Gallion during his State of the County address in February, when he pledged the county's resources to battle a heroin epidemic that has claimed the lives of many young Harford County residents.
The Gallions have been long-time members of Churchville Presbyterian, and Mr. Gallion attended the church day care center when he was a child.
Melton said the day care administrators wanted to plant the tree in the young man's memory.
Sandra Gallion said during the service that the tree "symbolizes rebirth every year, and I know that Nolan has rebirthed in his new life."
"I know that he went through a struggle and it was hard for him, and I think that a tree is a good symbol of that, because he was trying every time to bust out and to rebirth, every time he went through this struggle," she said.
Nolan Gallion Jr., who is also a farmer, was briefly overcome with emotion as he talked about the passing of the seasons.
"If we can just get through the winter, it'll be better, and then you plant and watch the crops grow and it's going to get better," he said. "I guess it's never truly better until we all meet again, and that's the hope we have, that we'll all meet again in the Great Beyond."
Mr. Gallion's younger sister, Stephanie, of Churchville, a firefighter and EMT with Level, said during the service that her brother loved to be outside.
Stephanie Gallion said later that her brother loved to hunt and fish.
"It was just something that he loved, being one with nature, and so a tree is a good way to represent him," she said.
Mr. Gallion's older sister, Michelle Gallion Williamson, of Delta, Pa., said he had a "special niche" for caring for young children, noting his connection to the church day care.
"He just had a special place in his heart for taking care of [children]," she said.
The godson of Mr. Gallion's parents, 4-month-old Greyson Nolan Ely, also came to the service with his family. His middle name comes from the Gallions' son.
Sandra Gallion held the infant as she shoveled dirt to cover the tree's root ball, and she was followed by each person who attended the service.
Mr. Gallion's grandfather, Nolan Gallion Sr., of Level, said the tree was a good way to remember Mr. Gallion.
"It'll be something where someday we can sit in the shade and enjoy each other," he said.
Church member Louise Umbarger said the Gallions are "one of the pillars of the church."
"I love the fact that they planted a tree," she said after the service. "I can't think of a better way to honor someone's memory than planting a tree."