Park Built in Memory of Willow Long
Rattled by the murder of a 7-year-old girl last fall, her hometown is building a park in her memory.
Just four blocks from the house in which Willow Long lived, a park is rising up - Willow Park. Except for two buildings and a play set, everything at the park is new: a playground, swings, spring rides and a basketball court. And it's all for Willow.
"I mean, you're not going to put a baseball diamond up for a little girl," said Watson Village Board President Duane Sapp. "A playground - everyone can use, and that was something she would use or be around more."
Willow Long's short life ended in September after just seven years. The search for Willow, the discovery of her body and the realization that she died at her uncle's hands have all left their scars on the village of Watson.
"And this was a tragic thing that happened," Sapp said. "It's time to move forward and do something good from this.
The park has been raised through the sweat of dozens of volunteers. The village board loaned the money for the playground equipment, and several companies have either donated or discounted their materials and even their labor.
"It feels wonderful to live in a community like this," said Deanna McWilliams, who heads up the committee to build the park. "You know, the out pour has been very, very supportive, and we're very thankful."
But big plans come with big costs. On top of the half-installed playground equipment, there's a fence, plans for a gazebo, trees, shrubs, a sign and numerous other improvements. After the discounts and freebies, the price tag comes to about $40,000. Right now, the park fund has about $10,000.
They're also short on one more thing - time. The committee wants to finish this in time for the Memorial Day parade, which will end with a dedication ceremony for the park.
"We're expecting the town to triple in size that day just for the parade and the fireworks and the dedication that afternoon," Sapp said.
And it's all for Willow.
Volunteers will also be racing against the weather. They plan to work almost every night until Memorial Day in order to finish the park.
The park's committee is holding two fundraisers to help fill that $30,000 funding gap, but it is also taking personal donations. If you would like to make a donation, send it to:
Fifth Third Bank
Attn: Willow Park Fund
200 E Jefferson Ave
Effingham IL 62401