News: Neillsville - Infant Loss Memorial Plan (2021)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Strangfeld, Genteman, Clough, Wachsmuth, Perrine, Counsell, Harnisch, Neville, Schmalz

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 10/13/2021

Smiling For Samuel - Planning Infant Loss Memorial (2021)

Smiling for Samuel – Planning Infant Loss Memorial

By Valorie Brecht

About 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. Additionally, each year about 24,000 babies are stillborn in the U.S., which is about the same number of babies that die during the first year of life. Families affected by these types of losses don’t always have a designated memorial for their baby, especially if the loss happened early in the pregnancy.

To help remedy that, Christie mother Sierra Strangfeld is heading up a project that will provide a place for families affected by miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss to grieve the loss of their loved one. Strangfeld’s organization, Smiling for Samuel, received approval for an infant loss memorial to be built in the Neillsville City Cemetery.

“We are hoping this can be a private, comforting place for families to go to remember their babies, said Sierra.

The memorial is a statue of an angel weeping over an empty crib.

“While trying to Google something I was envisioning, this statue appeared. It is called ‘I Knew You in the Womb,’ so everything about it just seemed to be fitting,” said Strangfeld.

The cause is a personal one for Sierra, as she and her husband Lee lost their son Samuel in 2019. Samuel passed away a few hours after birth due to a rare condition known as Trisomy 18 causes birth defects in organs and is usually fatal within the first year of life.

Sierra and Lee founded Smiling for Samuel to support families dealing with infant and child loss, and those going through the journey of Trisomy 18. This is their latest project.

“After losing Samuel, I realized how lucky I was to be able to have a burial and place for closure. So many parents don’t have that. That’s why I felt like it was such an important idea. The state itself has such a powerful statement behind it. And the timing just felt right to bring it to the public,” Sierra said.

Sierra and Caitlyn Genteman presented the project to the city council on Sept. 28 after receiving approval from the cemetery board. “After talking with cemetery sexton Regan Barth, a 20-feet by 57-feet space on the northwest side across the road from the round flowerbed, in an unplantable, unusable space was chosen,” the city council unofficial meeting minutes stated.

The memorial will consist of a 20-feet by 20-feet circular paved concrete area. The statue will be approximately only 50 inches tall, 34 inches wide and 66 inches deep. There will also be one to three memorial benches and a brick walkway 37 feet long by 4 feet wide composed of paver bricks. The paver bricks will be available in three sizes and engraved with epoxy-filled font. The entire area is about the size of 10 cemetery plots.

According to the meeting minutes, “Council member [Dan] Clough asked city to donate the plots or if they were going to buy them. Strangfeld stated we are open to either option, but prefer the city to donate them, since they are not usable anyway, City attorney [Bonnie] Wachsmuth stated since the lots are not platted [and] they can’t be sold, it wou8ld be more of a donation of location.”

Clough mentioned to make available the land equivalent to 10 plots and approve the memorial project moving forward, with the project completion to be within five years. Council member John Perrine seconded that motion.

Clough, Perrine and council member Julie Counsell voted in favor of the project. Council member Dave Harnisch abstained, as he was unfamiliar with the Smiling for Samuel organization. Council member Joe Neville was absent.

The estimated cost of the project is $45,000. There will be three phases: fundraising for the statue, fundraising for the location work and construction.

“We have five years to complete the project, but we are hoping to break ground in 2022, and have a statue place by 2023,” said Sierra

Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz will create the sculpture. Smiling for Samuel will also work with Gift Bricks, a company based in Sturtevant, for fundraising. Gift Bricks will personalize bricks that will pave the way to the statue.

“Any one can donate a brick. It can be on behalf of your business, your family or a lost infant or family member. These bricks will appear on the walkway up to the statue, reminding us of all who made the statue possible,” said Sierra.

The brick donation process has not been set up yet, but should be soon, said Sierra. For more information, contact Sierra at 715-937-4944. People may also donate online at

The smiling for Samuel organization is raising funds to have this statue, entitled “I Knew You in the Womb,” installed in the Neillsville City Cemetery as a place for families who have lost a baby to remember and reflect.



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