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Families Fight To Keep Memorial Trees Offered Through Chicago Park District After Being Told Of Golf Course Plans

CHICAGO (CBS) -- They have old photos and special memories, but trees give them a sanctuary. Two families are now fighting to keep memorial trees offered through the Chicago Park District standing after being told they would be uprooted.

They shared the decades-long connection with CBS 2's Marie Saavedra.

The deepest friendships chart time by milestones. Shigeyo and Scott Henriquez and Laurie and Pierre LeBreton shared them all together.

"It's really a story of two families," said Laurie LeBreton. "We had so much fun."

The couples were next door neighbors in Lakeview, who became chosen family. Paul, the LeBreton's first born, was everyone's baby. 

"Paul said his first words to Scott," Laurie said. "And he took his first steps to Scott."

Then the Henriquez family had one of their own. The years that followed brought two more kids, new opportunities, and grew the couples' bond. Shigeyo would need it in 1998 at the end of their family's spring break.

"Driving back, going through Iowa on I-80, he suddenly became very ill," she said of Scott. "Less than 24 hours, he was gone."

Sepsis Syndrome claimed him at 50 years old. 

"We have amazing friends. That's what keeps us going," Shigeyo said.

Their friends chose to honor Scott in nature. They chose a Ginkgo tree as part of the Chicago Park District's Green Deed Tree Program, which plants living memorials in city parks. It's grown from a 10-footer to an established beauty off of Recreation Drive.

"It's just straight up in the air. Blue skies and lakefront," said Shigeyo.

Paul LeBreton moved in with the Henriquez women for a time to help ease their grief. Four years later, they would mourn him at the same spot. 

"So after Paul's car accident there was no question that we would plant a tree, and that it had to be near Scott's, and that's what we did," said Laurie.

They are two families now bonded by loss. 

"We're there on anniversaries. We're there on holidays. I'm there whenever I'm feeling a little bit low. And I love that part of the park, too," said Laurie.

This part sits just south of Marovitz Golf Course, right in front of the Waveland Clock Tower. You can see there is new development here. The park district is partnering with First Tee to turn the area into a youth clubhouse and after-school golf program. The project broke ground in January. Laurie learned about it on March 26. In a note, a park district volunteer said Paul's Linden tree must be removed.

"Halfway through the email, I burst into tears, and so the next thing I did was call Shigeyo," Laurie said.

"I couldn't talk anymore. We both burst into tears," Shigeyo said.

Both men's trees look to be in the middle of the planned putting green. CBS 2 spoke with First Tee's CEO, who said the Chicago Park District didn't tell their team about the memorial trees during planning. After learning about this, she met with the women last weekend and says out of respect for the families, First Tee will not remove the trees.

"I can't blame this First Tee not knowing these trees had such significant meanings to us," said Shigeyo.

The Chicago Park District says that email sent to Laurie inaccurately portrayed the project design as final. They apologized and say while they're still in that design phase, the golf facility will incorporate the deeded trees. 

Both women appreciate the effort, but either way, their access to this spot will change. And that feels unfair, like the other losses in their lives. 

"Paul died young and this tree might die young again. That is not acceptable," said Shigeyo.

This is a story of two families, who wish the testaments to their most painful chapters could stand just as they are. 

"I'm sure there's a solution we'll learn to live with, because we've learned to live with everything else," said Laurie.

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