By Emily Fedor
Everyone deals with grief differently, but three Dunmore families that each faced a loss of their own chose to turn their grief into something positive and honor their loved ones in a very special way.
The Zayac family lost their “Sweet Baby Jude” in 2014 as the result of SIDS—Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Mark and Diane Michalczyk’s son Ryan passed away in his sleep in 2009. And Dorothy French Conway lost her long and bravely fought 11-year battle with ovarian cancer in 2011.
Carol Conway, Dorothy’s mother-in-law, said that at the end of Dorothy’s life, she wanted a play area where children could gather and enjoy summertime fun to be constructed.
“She was such a wonderful mother and educator…and she loved children,” said Conway. “She just felt that establishing something would give them a focus. They needed to know that they were important. She was the most selfless person.”
With similar hopes of finding a way to give back to the community and memorialize their own loved ones, the Zayacs and the Michalczyks appeared to be the perfect partners to make that dream a reality.
Years ago, Sherwood Park was home to a small wading pool, an area where many children were able to play and keep cool during the hot summer months. But in 2006, the pool was drained and filled in.
Susan Brace, treasurer of the Sherwood Youth Association, said, “We had to fill in the pool because of rising insurance costs. We had to keep a lifeguard on duty, and the pool was actually deteriorating.”
Brace said the idea of creating another water attraction was in the making for years, but the organization never thought they would be able to secure the funds needed to make the idea a reality.
In 2008, Tammy Robson, a former Sherwood Youth member, did a college project on installing a splash pad at the park in the same spot where the old wading pool once stood. Robson included pictures and financial estimates and ultimately made the concept a little more concrete.
“This has been an on-going idea for years,” said Brace. “We saw them [splash pads] in the area and wanted to build something where they [local children] could enjoy the summer months, but we never thought we’d be able to do it because we never thought we’d be able to raise enough funds.”
The Dunmore Summer Festival hosted annually at the park brought in some funds, but it was not until the Michalzyk family brought in the first major donation in May of 2014 that things finally got moving.
Diane Michalzyk said that her family worked to remodel the park area at St. Anthony’s Memorial Playground in Dunmore in 2011 in memory of her son Ryan. They had an idea to construct a water attraction there but quickly realized it was a big project to tackle alone. So when they heard Sherwood had a similar idea, they immediately jumped on board.
“With the combined resources from the families and Sherwood Park, we were able to accomplish that project faster than if we went at it on our own,” said Michalzyk, “and the experience was just priceless.”
Shortly after, the Conway and Zayac families heard about the park’s splash pad plans and joined the efforts to make the concept a reality. And with that, the dream team was fully assembled.
Each family had a memorial foundation established in names of those they lost—the Jude Zayac Foundation, the Ryan Mason Michalzyk Memorial Fund and the Dorothy French Conway Memorial. Different fundraisers that each family conducted provided crucial funds that allowed construction to begin. Sherwood Youth also qualified for a $45,000 state grant funded by Mount Airy Casino Resort slots revenues—a share of money distributed annually under the 2004 slots law.
In March, the final design was completed, the splash pad equipment was purchased from Aquatic Recreation Company, based in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and construction plans began to play out. Reilly Landscaping excavated the former wading pool area in May once the frozen winter ground finally thawed, and in June, Perry’s General Contracting was chosen to spearhead the splash pad construction.
At the end of nearly a month of construction, the non-slip finish was applied to the concrete surface, and the Splash and Play Zone was finally ready to be revealed.
The officers of the Sherwood Youth Association hosted a dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting to open the pad for public use on Sunday, July 19. The national anthem was sung by Thomas Pyeron, and a blessing was given by Rev. John A. Doris. Additionally, Mayor Patrick “Nibs” Loughney and each of the families were presented with plaques—a token of gratitude for the part they played in bringing the concept of the splash pad to life.
After a balloon release, the cutting of the ceremonial ribbon and the unveiling of a monument honoring Jude, Ryan and Dorothy, children from each of the three families pressed the activation ballard together—turning on the splash pad for the first time.
Greg Zayac, father of Jude Zayac, admitted that the day was a bittersweet but enjoyed seeing all the families who came out for the opening playing on the splash pad and having a good time.
“It was a little emotional,” said Zayac. “It’s unfortunate that we all had to lose someone for this to be a reality, but it’s really been inspiring and helpful in our grieving process. I think it’s a great thing for the community, and the kids really love it.”
The Sherwood Youth Association is now preparing for their annual summer festival, which will take place on August 13, 14 and 15. The fun-filled event will be the perfect platform to showcase the park’s new attraction and allow locals to enjoy some hot summer nights.