(Posted Aug. 30, 2018)
By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer
Jen Hagmeier welcomed visitors to the official grand opening for Noah’s Playground, smiling and laughing as her fellow adults reverted to childhood by taking a whirl on the equipment.
As she gazed out on the playground, she saw firefighters hanging from the monkey bars, hospital workers spinning on a swing, and London city officials trying to navigate an omnispinner, which resembles a tea cup ride at the fair.
Though children were milling about at the Aug. 24 event, they mainly stayed out of the way in order to watch and laugh at the adults, then later explain how the play area’s features work.
While it wasn’t exactly the scenario Hagmeier pictured when she and her husband, Dan, inquired about making changes to Cowling Park in London two years ago, she was not at all displeased by the sight of adults at play.
“Isn’t it amazing?” she gushed. “Everyone is smiling and having a good time.”
That is what Hagmeier wants when people venture over to Noah’s Playground.
The idea for the playground–an inclusive area for children of all developmental and cognitive abilities–came about when smiles and laughter were hard to come by.
In the weeks following the unexpected death of their 7-month-old son Noah, the Hagmeiers began to think of how they could honor their child. At first, little came to mind.
“It’s hard to know what kind of memorial to do for a little boy,” Hagmeier said.
Eventually, they decided upgrades to the neighborhood park where smiles and laughter were abundant was the way to go.
“We asked the city if we could put some money toward the purchase of a bench, a multi-purpose path and a few sensory panels,” she said. “And then they said ‘Let’s do more.’”
With the help of Amy Rees, the city’s administrative assistant and president of the non-profit London Community Organization, a massive fundraising effort took place to create a playground of endless imagination at Cowling Park. The fundraising project was dubbed Access Cowling.
Altogether, more than $500,000 was raised through donations, grants and state funding. Both Hagmeier and Rees said they remain astounded by the amount of money raised for this project.
“The support for Access Cowling has been overwhelming,” said Rees. “We didn’t expect to raise this amount this fast, or at all really, but the community stepped up and poured their love out for this family, this park and the memory of Noah.”
While the play area has been completed and open to the public for several weeks, the Aug. 24 grand opening and ribbon cutting served as another opportunity for organizers to thank the project’s supporters. A kiosk honoring those who made significant contributions was unveiled. Organizers also announced news that further improvements are planned.
“With some of the remaining funds, there will be a bridge built by the Lions Club and the construction of a complete multi-purpose path,” Rees said.
Work on the bridge will start this fall; work on the path will begin next year.
For now, though, and for years to come, children of all ages–and yes, even the kids at heart–will be able to laugh, smile, make friends and have fun at an inclusive playground that has been called a “jewel” of the city.
Hagmeier said she thinks Noah would be happy with what has been built and what has taken place in his honor.
“I’m sure wherever he is, he’s looking down and smiling at what he sees,” she said.