WINDHAM — Local children have a new playground thanks to the congregation at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church and inspired by parishioner Kelli Hutchison, 10, who lost her battle with brain cancer earlier this year.

“It was an incredible example of people coming together and helping somebody,” Julie Tupper, Kelli’s aunt, said after a daylong installation Aug. 28.

The Kelli Hutchison Memorial Playground, located at the church, is a tribute to a young girl who was “full of life,” Kelli’s mother, Melissa Hutchison, said. Kelli was quiet but chatty when comfortable around familiar faces, and she enjoyed the company of friends, whether children or adults. Her aunt described her as playful, but with a thoughtful and sensitive side.

“She really respected people, their feelings,” Tupper said.

The idea for the playground in memory of Kelli was born this spring. Within a few months, a committee formed and the congregation came together, raising $30,000 for playground equipment. Phil Baker, a church member, said a 5-kilometer road race raised $3,200 with 132 participants, but the majority of funds came from friends, family and members of the congregation.

“We’ve been working hard and fast, and the speed with which it came together is a testament to the congregation at St. Ann’s,” he said.

Even the children of the congregation were involved. Celine Baker, Phil Baker’s daughter and one of Kelli’s dear friends, started a lemonade stand after Sunday services, collecting $300. Other children were involved in selecting the equipment for the playground and assuring the adults on the planning committee that fundraising was the easiest part, Tupper said.

Just as the late-August heat wave started, about 50 people turned up to help install a swing set, a play set including two slides off two towers connected by a bridge, a climbing wall and a set of monkey bars. In addition, local businesses including Cutter’s Edge Hydroseeding, Busque Excavating, C.R. Tanberg Inc. and Sportsman’s Hardware were on hand to help.

“It’s amazing how quickly it came together and the amount of money raised to have it done,” Melissa Hutchison said. “To be there on Saturday and see all the help that showed up, it’s pretty amazing. We’re very touched.”

While the majority of equipment is installed, Baker said the church is continuing to raise money for additional features, including two ladybug spring toys for toddlers.

“Kelli had a special love for ladybugs,” he said.

Her mother explained that during treatment, Kelli told her, “I’m a ladybug, you’re a butterfly, Cory (Kelli’s brother) is a beetle and daddy’s a grasshopper.”

“She drew a picture of flowers, with the sun and some clouds and this ladybug that has this dotted line with its flight path” just six days before her death on Feb. 10, Melissa Hutchison said, adding that art was something Kelli enjoyed during the last few months of her life.

As children begin to enjoy the Kelli Hutchison Memorial Playground, Melissa Hutchison hopes her daughter’s passion and faith will live on. During a dinner conversation, Kelli once wondered what children who did not go to church did when they were troubled or in need of guidance if they did not have God to turn to, her mother said.

“We were comforted in the amount of faith she had,” Melissa Hutchison said. “My hope is that other kids will enjoy this playground and maybe they will find faith.”

 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: [email protected]