By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Part of Leah Pekarik was dreading Wednesday. That was the day a new splash pad creature was being dedicated in honor of her daughter, Clara, who died last year at just 10 weeks old. But the other part of Pekarik was overwhelmed by the generosity of the community to turn her family’s pain into pleasure for other children in Bowling Green.
With the help of community members who love Leah, her husband, Scott, and their son, Bobby, the day of dread turned into a day of joy surrounding Clara’s short life.
“Everyone in this community knows Leah and loves her,” said Kristin Otley, director of the Bowling Green Parks and Recreation Department. “So many community members contacted us and said, ‘We want to do something.’”
So the park and recreation program came up with a plan.
“We asked people to help us remember Clara and give other children in the community something to smile about,” Otley said.
When the new aquatic center was built in City Park, there were not enough funds to furnish the “splash pad” area with “creatures” that spray water on children. The idea was to add a frog creature to the area for $6,000.
“We started just with that,” Otley said of the original plan to add a frog to the splash pad in honor of Clara. “We got an outpouring of support from people who knew her and from people who didn’t know her.”
So the plan grew, with the Wood County Park District donating money for a “snake” creature spitting water at the splash pad, and the Bowling Green Community Foundation and Bowling Green Parks Foundation paid for “flowers” that dump water onto squealing children.
“She had such an impact,” Otley said of Pekarik, who worked for the city parks for 11 years. “People wanted to do something to bring smiles to kids’ faces.”
And that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday as the ribbon was officially cut at the splash pad.
“We’re here to celebrate a heartfelt project that has a lot of meaning,” for the community and especially for the Pekarik family, said Earlene Kilpatrick, executive director of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce.
As they lined up to cut the ribbon, Clara’s big brother, Bobby, 7, held onto the giant scissors with Mayor Dick Edwards.
“This is a grand day,” Edwards said. “This is a wonderful occasion.”
Though the day was chilly and windy, children couldn’t resist the new splash pad creatures. And Clara’s mom found comfort in that.
“Bobby will not be the only child to get to play with Clara” at the splash pad, Leah Pekarik said. “She’s not with us at home, but we get to see her here.”
Leah said Wednesday that her family still desperately misses their little girl who was boisterous, even tempered, and on her way to being a “ginger” like Bobby.
There are times, like when she is picking up Bobby from ball practice, when she looks in her rearview mirror to get a glimpse of Clara’s carseat. “She should be here,” Leah feels at those moments.
But while she used to hope for strength to get through minutes, those stretched into hours, and now into days.
“I’ve got good days with bad moments,” she said.
“Every day is another step to being together with her again,” Clara’s mother said.
To add to the good days, the Pekarik family adopted the splash pad idea. “Let’s do this. That’s an outlet for us,” Leah said. “We choose to lead a life that Clara would be happy with.”
And the community chose the same. “It shows how much we all care about our community,” Leah said.