Navy Wives honor Babyland

Members of the Navy Wives Club of America gather Tuesday evening for a memorial tribute at Babyland, a section of Maple Leaf Cemetery in Oak Harbor. Kathy Reed/Whidbey Crosswind
They’ve been doing it for so long, they can’t actually remember how long it’s been. Members and guests of the Navy Wives Club of America, Whidbey Island branch 150, gathered briefly Tuesday evening at Maple Leaf Cemetery in Oak Harbor for their annual Babyland dedication and memorial. “Babyland goes back way before I joined, which was in 1974,” said NWCA president Betty Glein. “As I understand it, some military infants passed away and their parents were being transferred out. They asked the Wives Club if they would look after the graves.” And so began a decades-long tradition. Over the years, members of the club have worked in conjunction with cemetery personnel to help place markers on graves where there was no stone. The Navy Wives have carefully tended the corner of the cemetery where most of the graves are located. A heart-shaped bed surrounds the granite blocks that mark the area at the corner of NE 16th Street and Regatta Avenue. “We’re not landscapers, but we try to make it look nice,” said Glein. “The Thundercloud plum (trees) along the road there have been planted in memory or in honor of family members and Navy wives,” said NWCA member Barbara Mann. “Each one was planted with a prayer.” Approximately 25 trees line the lane that stretches from the corner nearest Babyland to the center of the cemetery. Because of space, the women stopped planting trees there in the late 1990s. They try to keep the flower bed filled with bulbs and plants that will bloom each spring, and carry on with the brief, but meaningful ceremony each year.
Jill Ashley-Chase speaks to members of the Navy Wives Club of America at the group's annual memorial event at Babyland, a section of Maple Leaf Cemetery in Oak Harbor. Kathy Reed/Whidbey Crosswind
“We do this for the parents and for those of us who wait, not for the babies, because they’re not here,” said former Navy Chaplain and American Baptist minister Jill Ashley-Chase, who gave a brief message. “We turn our thoughts and prayers to those who have lost little ones. We hope this place can be a place of comfort.” “I feel like we’re doing something for the young mothers and fathers that have had to move on, as part of the Navy lifestyle,” Glein said. “I’ve been so blessed with so many babies in my life that are healthy and strong, it’s just an emotional feeling I have for the area.”