BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | A tree grows as a memorial in Union Square, near E. 17 St. and Broadway.
The well-tended tree and blooming bed commemorates Kyle Larson, a 20-year-old New York University student who was rushing to turn in a term paper when he was fatally hit by a delivery truck in November 2012.
For his parents, Nancy and Robert Larson, making the journey every weekend from their home in Manhasset, Long Island, to the city to take care of the tree and the memorial has become a way to keep their son’s memory alive.
“We come in on Sunday mornings because it gives us a chance just to remember him for a few quiet moments,” Nancy Larson said on Sun., Aug. 2, seated with her husband at the new pedestrian plaza near where the accident happened. “He’s always in our thoughts — there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t think of him countless times.”
The Larsons chose this particular tree, in front of McDonald’s and the former Heartland Brewery, because a few days after the accident, the NY Longboard Association held an event to honor Kyle, an avid skateboarder, who had been riding his longboard the day of the crash.
The association designated that tree because it had been the closest to where the incident occurred. The Larsons had found out about the memorial through Facebook.
“We almost weren’t going to come,” Nancy recalled. “It was really cold that day. It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving and we came in. We were blown away. So many people showed up — there were at least 100 people. None of them knew him — they just knew that he was a skateboarder that had been involved in an accident.”
People were chalking messages — very beautiful thoughts — and the area around the tree was lit with candles, she said. The group also gave the Larsons a skateboard without wheels that they had painted with their son’s name. They keep it in their dining room because it is so special, Nancy said.
After that, the Larsons decided to make that tree the spot where they could come and continue to honor their son, as well as the group that showed so much kindness, she explained.
At the foot of the tree is a photo of Kyle, sitting cross-legged in front of N.Y.U.’s Institute of French Studies. To the left of the picture is his full name — Kyle Andrew Larson — and underneath it a quote that the Larsons found in his journal: “To the world you may be one person but to one person you may be the world.”
“N.Y.U. was his only choice. He didn’t want anything but N.Y.U.,” said his mother. “He just loved the city. He loved this whole area, so that’s a blessing. I just know that he’s at peace here.”
The couple described their son as resilient and compassionate, always willing to reach out to others dealing with problems.
“He helped other people,” his mother said.
In addition to skateboarding, Kyle loved video games, scuba diving, skiing and music.
“He was extremely talented, he played four instruments,” Nancy said.
A drum major for his high school marching band, Kyle played clarinet, saxophone and guitar. He also sang.
“Sophomore year of high school he discovered he had a voice,” she said. “And he was surprised and he was so nervous to sing a cappella.”
Kyle wasn’t quite sure what he would major in at N.Y.U., but he had a strong interest in sociology and philosophy.
“Everything reminds us of him,” his mother said. “Every Sunday morning, we’re here. Bob and I are able to just have a few moments where we’re completely in touch with each other and then with Kyle.”
His father works in commercial real estate in Midtown and often comes down during the week to check on the tree bed, clean and water it.
“Somebody said to me the other day, ‘It was like a little oasis here in the park because of the flowers,’ ” he said.
Nancy, a nurse practitioner, said, “In the beginning it was just such a mess. The earth is hard as a rock, so we would work it.”
They added in topsoil and fertilizer to make it easier for flowers and plants to grow, she explained. Ivy has been planted, as well as whatever flowers Nancy happens to find at their neighborhood Whole Foods Market. They plan to plant mums in September, pansies in early spring and a small spruce at Christmas.
They also put out candy canes during Christmas for children who walk by with their parents. Nancy said they wanted to involve the different seasons and holidays, in the hope that when someone passes by, they see Kyle’s photo but also the flowers and “it would bring a smile to their day as they passed.”
“So many people have stopped,” she said. “So many people in the area who were there or who pass it every day, stop and wish us well. They’ll say to us, ‘We say hi to Kyle every day when we walk by.’ ”
“It makes us feel good,” she added. “Because as a parent the only thing that’s worse than not being able to have him in our lives is to think he’s forgotten. I don’t want that to happen.”
The Larsons have gotten to know many people who work in the Union Square area, including some of the vendors, as well as managers and workers from nearby stores and restaurants.
The Larsons said if the tree at some point needs to be replaced, they would like to put a permanent marker for Kyle there.
“It’s about the memory — just about the memory,” said his mother. “He was way too young. He was way too young.”