Park cleanup a chore from the heart

WAKARUSA — Town representatives and community members gathered May 21 at the Wakarusa Park downtown to do some sprucing up. Only a year-and-a-half old, community members felt it was in need of some fresh mulch, paint and lacquer. “One of the neighbors thought we should do something about the squeaky swings too,” said town deputy-clerk Helen Hoffman. “We also want to make sure that everything is still safe, that there aren’t any nails sticking out or anything.”
She and roughly 25 others armed with paintbrushes, metal cans and rags, went to the task with a more upbeat demeanor than most would when tackling a refurbishing project. Perhaps the attitude was one geared by the intent that the park was rebuilt.
“The park was built to honor the school nurse, Diane Brown, who we lost to breast cancer,” explained Hoffman. “Her family is touching up the heart wall dedicated to her and to Lisa Lengacher. She was also very involved in the community — especially with kids. We wanted to make sure this was a place they could be remembered and both women would’ve loved this.”
The “downtown” park always stood at the location but it was added to and updated after the initiative to honor the women was brought up, and donations paid for the equipment and landscaping. “No tax dollars were spent on this,” Hoffman explained. “We had some money left to maintain it so we bought these supplies to fix it up. It’s very heavily used.”
The park as a memorial, was created in just four days with the Wakarusa and Nappanee communities offering 1,000 volunteers and more than $100,000 to the cause. “In a town where people at that time just didn’t have the money,” Hoffman recalled, “the economy was struggling, but they still really prioritized this for the kids.”
Eric Brown was tending the white tiles covered in handprints, (baby) footprints and names that made up the heart-shaped memorial with his wife and Lengacher’s names on it. His wife passed away Friday, Oct. 3 2008 and Lengacher, the following Monday. Both women loved children and lived about a quarter-mile from one another.
“I think this is great,” said Eric, who’s office at Brown and Brown sits with its back to the park. “Every time I come out of the office I can see children playing out here in the summer and I know she would’ve loved it.”
Joyce McDowell, park board liaison and Wakarusa Town Council member said she offered her services on a sunny Saturday because she enjoys “helping out with community events” and added, “It (the park) was getting to the point it needed some revamping.” Town maintenance supervisor Terry Flickinger and Nolan Gerber were just a few of the volunteers on hand. The men tended to laying out the new mulch for the children’s safety.