Parents still seeking satisfaction for loss of memorial playground
CHESTER — The destruction of the Children’s Memorial Playground at Old Love Point Park continues to be a source of pain and frustration to parents whose children’s lives were honored there. Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Robert Buckey is championing the parents and has vowed to see their grievances addressed.
Buckey and County Commissioner Steve Wilson met with a group of parents and interested citizens Oct. 2 in the Barrett Room at the Chesapeake Heritage Center on Oct. 2. The longawaited parent meeting was something the group asked
for from the beginning, but, somehow, it never happened.
Everyone present agreed that step one should have been to contact the people involved, those with memorials at the playground.
Buckey apologized and said the situation should have been handled differently. He said the Parks office told him its staff had contacted all the parents involved individually, rather than as a group — a notion the parents present quickly told him was wrong.
Wilson agreed altering the park without involving the public was a mistake, but he said the fault is that of the commissioners, not county staff.
“Parks was acting on orders,” he said. “The commissioners dropped the ball.”
Parents weren’t inclined to let staff off the hook so easily. They maintained that workers should have notified their superiors when they realized they were jackhammering through memorials written in concrete and throwing away benches with names on them.
Elaine and Greg Harrison’s son Matthew was one of two babies who died in 1998 at an in-home day care in Cloverfields. He and Ian Walden Denny were both 5 months old in May 1998 when they suffocated under a quilt while napping on an adult bed while their day care provider was holding a birthday party downstairs for her own child. Their deaths lead to changes in regulation of in-home day cares in the state of Maryland. Locally, their deaths sparked the memorial playground project.
Elaine Harrison has been quite vocal about what she calls the “arrogance and ignorance” of County Administrator Gregg Todd and the parks department, publicly calling for the firing of both Todd and Parks director Chip Price. In fact, she said the county staff will no longer take her calls.
In a phone interview, Todd confirmed staff has been directed not to take Harrison’s calls, that he has told her to communicate through emails. She can talk to him, but he sees no reason for staff to be screamed and cursed at, Todd said.
Harrison admitted that, in her anger and frustration, her language hasn’t always been the best.
As a spokesman for the parents, “she (Harrison) had all of our anger inside her,” said Sharon Robertson, whose husband Bert has a memorial at Mowbray Park. Their son Brian was killed by a drunk driver. Robertson said, after what had happened at the Children’s Memorial Playground, she wanted to move Bert’s rock to ensure it wouldn’t be carelessly discarded.
With no input from parents, the mistakes have continued. The memorial plaque for William N. Gardner Jr. left the Jr. off, so the new bench read as a memorial to his father, who is still living. At least one bench, the one in honor of Ian Denny, has not been replaced.
“If Parks’ first plan had been to Google that sign, it would not have taken much effort or thought to contact the families,” Harrison said.
Robertson said there needs to be accountability of memorials and there needs to be a contact person for them.
Parks and Recreation Advisor y Board members Jean Waagbo and Ed Morgan also attended the parent meeting. They asked the parents what needed to happen in order to move forward.
Priorities, as outlined by the parents, include the creation of an inventory of memorials in the county, policies and procedures created for memorials, input from families — and maybe another parent meeting.
Morgan said the county has created a memorials policy and offered to send it to the parents to review.
In the meantime, the new playground has opened quietly, without fanfare, and without the promised rededication.
Harrison said she was so upset with how things have been handled, she has told the county she doesn’t want Matthew’s name included on a new memorial — unless changes are made.
She and several other parents said the destruction of the playground brought back the pain of losing their children all over again.
“It’s dragged ever ybody through a lot of memories,” said Greg Harrison. While he would like to see the memorials replaced, he wants assurances the same mistakes won’t happen in the future. “If you can’t fix the problem … I don’t want to have to go through this all over again.”
He asked that families be given opportunity to proof the memorials for errors before they’re engraved or printed in stone.
Wilson and Waagbo both agreed having parents proof the names was a good idea, but said they didn’t know where the county was in the printing process.
Buckey asked the families gathered to give him and the county the chance to make things right.
If parents are included and their concerns addressed, most indicated they would like to see the playground rededicated.
“It’s been 30 years for us; we don’t need anything big,” said Mindy Voelker, whose son Andy was memorialized at the playground.
“I just want to see this done right and the parents approve it,” said Annette Sanger, William N. Gardner Jr.’s mom.
Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Robert Buckey meets with parents about the Children’s Memorial Playground at Old Love Point Park. Beside him, from left, are Elaine Harrison, Mindy Voekler and Sharon Rebertson.