Noah’s laugh always ended in a squeal. He loved to blow raspberries, he babbled constantly and always wanted to be in the middle of the noise.
Even at seven months old, he was fiery and feisty and determined and delighted with the world, recalls his mother, Jennifer Hagmeier.
So when Noah unexpectedly died in May, following a tragic event at the baby-sitter’s house, the Choctaw Lake family knew they needed a way to remember their youngest son.
They’ll have a physical place to do so this year with Access Cowling, a project to install new, handicapped-accessible playground equipment at London’s Cowling Park.
The park would be not only a first for Madison County, but the entire region.
Between full-time jobs and caring for their children, The Hagmeier Family keeps busy.
Noah was Dan and Jennifer’s third child together. In addition to a daughter in college in Florida and a teenage son in Cincinnati, the couple also has 5-year-old Fin who attends St. Patrick’s School and 2-year-old Jack, who has cerebral palsy.
When it came to taking her three little boys to a playground where they could play together, it just didn’t happen, Jennifer recalled. The playground equipment Fin enjoyed wasn’t accessible to Jack.
“We just don’t go,” she said. “We go to places like the zoo where everyone can stay in a stroller.”
In the week’s after Noah’s death, thousands of dollars were raised on online funding websites.
“When your baby dies, a card and flowers doesn’t seem to do it,” Jennifer recalled. “People just wanted to help us.”
The money was more than enough to take care of expenses; the family wanted to do something special. Jennifer reached out to London city officials. She had $5,000 she wanted to use to create Noah’s Playground.
Amy Rees, the city’s administrative assistant, saw something greater. She pitched the idea to the London Community Organization (LCO), of which she also serves as secretary.
Trint Hatt, LCO president and a city council member, was in full support. LCO threw in another $5,000. But the new team saw something more.
Using the initial $10,000 as leverage, LCO is hoping to turn Hagmeier’s tragedy into something much bigger and wonderful: a $400,000 playground made for children with all abilities.
The plan is to break up the construction and cost into five phases. The first includes a five-foot-wide multi-purpose path that will connect the parking lot to the shelter house and basketball court, as well as two swings (one of which is molded with a plastic harness), five activity boards and a kiosk, which will include information about the project.
Subsequent phases include adding more playground structures with musical equipment, specially-created swings, spinners, zip-lines and see-saws. All of the equipment would be under turf.
“We tried to pick things that would be fun for everybody,” Hagmeier said.
A small sign reading “Noah’s Playground” will be erected at the entrance.
“They’ve really gone to town,” she said of LCO. “They’ve turned my idea into a dream.”
Cowling Chicken Challenge
The project sounds great, but it’s no small fundraising feat, Rees admits. That’s why they’re hoping to kick it off with a fundraiser at the park.
The Cowling Chicken Challenge, presented by LCO, will be London’s first chicken wing cook-off. Rees got the idea after reading a Facebook thread between two local cooks arguing who has the best wings.
She decided to put it to the test for a good cause.
The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15 at Cowling Park. The challenge will feature five wing vendors: Wilson’s Family BBQ, My Moment Concessions, Jarocho’s Mexican Street Food, Gumm’s Grille and Andree Tyree.
Guests will pay $20 for a ticket, which includes two wings from each vendor, a bottle of water and entry into a $100 raffle. Each ticket also gives the holder the right to vote for the best wing.
Vendors will also be serving other foods. No ticket is required to attend the event and purchase food.
London musician Matt Rees, Amy’s husband, will also be providing live music.
Tickets can be purchased at the mayor’s office, 6 E. Second St., CK Signs, Wilson’s Printing and Graphics, Phat Daddy’s and the London Fire Department. They will also be available at the event.
For more details, call Rees at 740-852-3243.
A gathering place for London
The closest handicapped-accessible park is 40 miles away, which means creating one in London will make the city a destination point, said Hatt.
There are 3,000 individuals in Champaign, Clark, Madison and Greene counties who qualify for developmental disability services, he noted.
During his campaign for city council, he recalled many residents asked for an update to Cowling Park. Noah’s Playground will not only be a gathering place for locals, but also for the entire region, he said.
And, it will allow the Hagmeier Family to have a place to remember Noah, said Jennifer, who moved to the area in 2009 from Nebraska. But London is their home now, she said. And, it was Noah’s home.
“Leaving something here to remember Noah feels really good,” she said.
The hope is for the first phase to be completed in time for the Cowling Chicken Challenge, which happens to fall on what would’ve been Noah’s first birthday.
It’s not something they necessarily did on purpose, Hagmeier said. It just happened.
“Everything is falling into place,” she said. “It’s like Noah is planning it.”
Andrea Chaffin can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619 or via Twitter @AndeeWrites.