Joe Chesko would be proud.
As foundation work has begun at the Children United Park in Elmer Thomas Park, a dream he shared is closer to becoming reality.
That reality will become more firm with a groundbreaking the Children United Committee at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Chesko had a dream for this all-inclusive park in 2018. A sign marking its location next to the existing playground was erected in December 2020. He shared with The Constitution at the event his wish for a wheelchair-accessible playground to be constructed.
“It doesn’t matter the disability a child has,” he said in 2020, “they will be able to play.”
When Chesko passed away unexpectedly, his long-time friend and business collaborator, Jeannette Klein, stepped up to keep the dream alive. When he first shared his goal and asked her to participate, she called it an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“I love kids, I love people,” she said. “I became really aware there was no place for the children to play and it was a no brainer.”
Klein said she first assisted as Chesko’s “gofer.”
“When Joe would tell me to get something, I would go get it,” she said.
Chesko’s death in 2021 came as a shock to not just the community but the Children United Committee as well, Klein said. Following his funeral, they met and asked “where do we go from here?”
“We had raised quite a bit of money and purchased equipment to the tune of $140,000,” she said. “We owed it to the people that donated and sponored events, we owed it to the citizens of Lawton … so we knew we had to finish the project.”
Klein stepped up and took his role and the committee stayed together. Before Chesko’s death, she served as the spokesperson. She still is, but there’s more to it than that.
“I just took the baton and ran with it after that,” she said. “I just continued doing that and whatever needed to be done, let’s get it done.”
So far, more than $530,000 has been raised. Klein said that’s sufficient to get things started but it’ll take more to completely finish the project. A June poker run and the annual dancing event, to be held in October this year, will help. But another $400,000 at least is needed. She said it’s a reachable goal
“I know it sounds like a pretty big number and it is a pretty big number,” she said, “but quite a few people have pledged to help when we get closer to running out of money.”
The park is being constructed in phases: Phase 1 is starting now, according to Klein. A retaining wall still needs to be built and more dirt is needed to level the foundation pad. That’s underway, she said.
Then on to Phase 2: the installation of equipment on the playground. Klein said this will include securing concrete cylinders in the earth, along with anchors.
“A lot of the equipment is secured 6-feet-below surface,” she said. “Once it’s all in place, a liquid will be poured into the surface and it will seep into the ground and solidify the anchors.”
This is where, Klein said, money’s going to be short. She said she’s certain there’s enough money to finish the foundation and there should be enough to purchase the rest of the playground equipment; some has already been bought and is stored at the Armory building.
Klein said a 50 percent deposit has been placed on the wheelchair swing. She said it takes about 20 weeks for it to come in.
“Hoping the swing will be delivered right at the appropriate time,” she said. “If not, we’ll store it at the Armory with the other playground equipment.”
Klein believes this will be a centerpiece to the equipment: “The swing is awesome.”