The seal has been broken, dirt ceremonially turned and the artist rendering unveiled for a dream 4½ years in the making.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Children United Accessible Playground project in Elmer Thomas Park envisioned by the late-Joe Chesko officially got underway following a groundbreaking ceremony.
Committee chair and long-time friend and colleague of Chesko’s, Jeannette Klein, summed up the effort. She remembered Chesko coming to her with the idea in 2018.
“What a great project and great outcome,” she said.
Mayor Stan Booker greeted the audience at Wednesday afternoon’s groundbreaking ceremony by remembering how touched Chesko had been when he was inspired. He called him a “good example” of the best in all.
“Joe Chesko had a heart and what he saw broke his heart,” he said. “What he saw was a child who couldn’t play with other children and it broke his heart.”
It also motivated Chesko, Klein said. Originally, the vision was for two wheelchair swings and a merry-go-round. But as Chesko researched and pondered the plans, they grew. When he died in 2021, his vision became her’s as well as the committee’s.
So far, $531,000 has been raised. That’s gotten the ball rolling for earthwork that’s been underway and to purchase some equipment, Klein said.
“That’s huge,” she said, “but we still got a ways to go.”
Another $400,000-plus is needed to complete the project, according to Klein. She said pre-pandemic, the estimated cost was around $750,000; now it’s grown to close to $1 million. She expressed optimism.
“We know that we can do it,” she said.
A poker run is scheduled for June 24 and in October, another edition of the committee’s Dancing with the Stars event will be held, according to Klein. Donations are always welcome and more fundraisers will be planned, but the mission will be accomplished, she said.
Lawton Realtor Barry Ezerski noted all the community entities and volunteers who have joined the committee’s efforts. Along with Klein, dozens of volunteers, dozens of individuals and businesses, the McMahon Foundation, the City of Lawton and Lawton Community Development Trust Authority and Max Sasseen’s efforts overseeing the project, it does take a village, he said.
“This definitely is a community investment,” he said. “Joe Chesko would be proud.”
Sasseen noted how the size of the playground has doubled since its inception. It all comes down to volunteers taking up the mantle Chesko held high.
“Everything good in Lawton has volunteers with it,” he said. “Volunteering is the key and that’s the kind of Lawton I want to live in.”