A large crowd of people made their way to the Bicentennial Grove at Jacob Myers Park on the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 17 for a special Tree Planting ceremony in memory of Scott and Janet Pettit.
The Friends of Jacob Myers Park and the City of Riverbank collaborated to host this event and have the living tribute and memorial for the Pettits. The tree was donated by Grover Landscaping.
People within the community gathered at the grove and were mingling with each other. The mood from the crowd was very calm and peaceful and the tranquil afternoon had the sun shining and the birds chirping.
Mayor Richard O’Brien started off the ceremonies expressing that the tree planting was a dedication, an expression of love, and condolences for the loss of the Pettits, who were killed in their Modesto home in August. O’Brien also added that the memorial tree is symbolic and will continue to grow stronger year after year in the community.
Charles Neal then led the guests that attended in prayer and then O’Brien resumed his speech.
“Scott and Janet were taken from this community in a very tragic way,” said O’Brien. “Scott was a humanitarian and we are feeling the effects of his absence as well as in the medical community for the loss of Janet.
“Scott was a true volunteer; he believed in giving to the students he taught, the family he loved and to the community of Riverbank.”
Authorities determined the couple was shot in their home, then a fire was set in an attempt to cover up the shootings. Their son Brandon Pettit and his friend Felix Valverde are facing murder charges in the case.
O’Brien also stated that “as the holidays approach there is a void and somehow we must fill that void. Whether it is the Halloween Haunted Hayride, food sharing program, or the Christmas parade, Scott was a large contributor of his time and effort.”
Sue Fitzpatrick, Director of Parks and Recreation also addressed the crowd stating that Pettit had worked with her department for over 10 years in one aspect or another. She stated that the Haunted Hayride was one of Pettit’s favorite events and that he would talk about it all year long.
“I hope that I thanked him enough…I hope I didn’t take it for granted,” said Fitzpatrick. “It’s a lesson not to take people for granted or things for granted because they are not always going to be there and I just hope I thanked him enough. He was a good person.”
Continuing her stroll down memory lane, Fitzpatrick expressed how Pettit would bring so much to the Hayride event and stay the entire time, making sure people were safe and able to get home safely.
After Fitzpatrick shared her thoughts, O’Brien placed the tree in a prepared hole. City councilmembers and a few others gripped the shovels, dug in, and added the dirt to hold the tree firmly in place.
Scott McRitchie with the Friends of Jacob Myers Park proceeded with some words about Pettit and started his speech explaining why he was wearing shorts.
McRitchie stated that Pettit always wore shorts and would seemingly wear pants just once a year, so, in his honor McRitchie wore shorts and stated that he will wear shorts one day a year in memory of his friend.
“I felt this tree idea is really most fitting for him, it’s a living memorial to him, he liked the quiet time, he liked the park and he could get away so I think this is really great,” said McRitchie. “This is something that will live on forever in his memory.”
The crowd was then asked to speak or share their memories from wherever they stood. A few friends made comments and some of the Karate students shared thoughts about Pettit as well.
Neal made a few closing remarks and ended the ceremony with a prayer. The tree will have a plaque placed by it to explain the significance. Following the service, attendees were invited to share refreshments and continue to remember the Pettits and their many contributions.
The Memorial Tree Planting program is something that the Friends of Jacob Myers Park is offering to individual families or companies as well.
“The best way we can honor him (Pettit) is to individually and collectively take his lead and make this community better,” said O’Brien.