Perseverance brings Noah’s Bridge to Cowling Park

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Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
Though the footbridge on the east side of Cowling Park has been open for more than a year, the public dedication and celebration to mark its completion only took place recently on May 18. The London Lions Club headed up the bridge project. Among those on hand for the dedication were: (from left) Greg Eades, Lions Club secretary; Jen Hagmeier; Amy Rees, president of the London Community Organization; and Skeeter Nelson, Lions Club president. The bridge is named “Noah’s Bridge” in honor of Hagmeier’s 7-month-old son who died unexpectedly in 2016.

(Posted May 19, 2021)

By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer

Those who knew Ray Chamberlain would not think of him as a bridge aficionado, yet his passion to have one placed along the eastern quadrant of London’s Cowling Park could have fooled anyone.

As a long-time member of the London Lions Club, Ray would talk about the idea with any of his service-oriented friends who would listen–and it didn’t even have to be at an official meeting.

“It seemed like he was always talking about it,” said Greg Eades, the club’s secretary. “His persistence paid off, though, because we all started to become fixated on the idea, too.”

The club’s first attempt at building a small footbridge to link park access along North Walnut Street to the main section of the park came when the city of London acquired the land there.

However, that was not to be.

“The timing was not quite right,” Eades explained.

As the years passed, the Lions went on to contribute to many other community projects, but the bridge project was something they could not shake–not that Ray would let them.

“I think he just wanted people to be able to have access to this beautiful area,” said his wife, Patsy. “It brought him so much joy.”

Then came an announcement that several organizations were banding together with the city to make massive upgrades to the park’s playground amenities. The project, later called Access Cowling, aimed to create a play space that children of all physical and mental capabilities could enjoy. It would be dedicated to the memory of Noah Hagmeier, a 7-month-old boy from London who died unexpectedly in 2016.

When the Lions heard about the project, two things immediately came to mind: the first was that they were going to contribute in any way possible to its creation and the second was that it was finally time to build that bridge.

Amy Rees, president of the London Community Organization, the non-profit that oversees the Access Cowling improvements, said the Lions’ interest in building the bridge was a blessing.

“We were primarily focused on the expansion of the playground area, but we always thought a bridge would be beneficial as it would allow greater access to this portion of the park,” she said. “When we heard from them, it was like music to our ears.”

With bridge plans finally under way, the Lions reached out to engineers to inquire about the cost. Those figures came in “quite a bit higher” than expected.

“We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Eades said.

So, they instead enlisted the help of Madison County Engineer Bryan Dhume who said his department could complete the bridge at a fraction of the cost.

With a goal of raising $10,000 for their portion of the roughly $38,000 project, the Lions got a big assist when the Madi-Lon Youth non-profit dissolved and distributed their funds to several community organizations. Thousands were earmarked for the Lions’ bridge project.

And, yes, Ray Chamberlain was a part of that non-profit group, along with Patsy, their son, Mike, their daughter-in-law, Jodi, and fellow Lion, Roger Morris.

“It was Ray’s idea, but we all wanted to contribute in some way to this,” said Jodi Chamberlain.

In July 2019, construction of the bridge began, and Ray was able to see it happen. Though he was ill at the time, he and Patsy drove by often and he marveled at the process.

Roby’s Memorial Design & Lettering donated the marker for Noah’s Bridge. Lions Club International celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017 and challenged clubs to take on special service projects. The London Lions Club chose construction of a footbridge at Cowling Park as their centennial project. The London club is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

He was there, too, for the completion of the footbridge a month later. However, he was not there for the long-delayed celebration of the project on May 18 of this year or to see the bridge dedicated in Noah’s memory.

“This would have made him so happy,” Patsy said. “He loved this community, he loved children, and he just wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact.”

Thousands have passed over that bridge since its opening in late 2019. Counted among those numbers were Jen Hagmeier, her husband, Dan, and their children, Fin and Jack. Until a few weeks ago, they did not know the crossing they enjoyed would be called “Noah’s Bridge.”

“It was a complete surprise,” said Jen Hagmeier. “A very nice surprise.”

She said she was thankful that the Lions undertook the bridge project not just because it makes access easier–“it makes pushing a stroller or a wheelchair so much simpler,” she added–but because it acts as a connector in so many ways.

“It’s amazing to think about,” she said. “Noah was only alive for seven months but because of this community [and projects such as Access Cowling and the bridge construction and dedication], people are going to keep knowing his name and the impact he left.

“It means a lot to me.”

Eades said the Lions Club hopes this bridge comes to mean a lot to the rest of the community, too.

“We wanted this bridge to be a benefit to everyone, and we wanted it to be a bridge, if you will, to our past, our present and our future,” he said.

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