UP Rededicates a Beautified Elena’s Children’s Park

University Park rededicated Elena’s Children’s Park during a ceremony on May 7. The park celebrates all children and remembers Park Cities children who have been lost.

The city has worked with a landscape architect to improve the park’s landscaping, make its fountain operational, and to add new plants, including flowering perennials which attract pollinators such as butterflies, parks superintendent Ann Allen said.

Allen said the city hoped to give families who had lost a child a place to reflect and remember. “This place is for them to come when they need to have a moment,” she said. “It’s here for them, and it’s beautiful.”

The park was inspired by the life of 3-year-old Mary Elena Franklin, who died in an automobile accident on August 2, 1997. More than 500 families, corporations and foundations contributed to the park’s creation. 

Over the years, more than 70 children’s names have been added to the park’s sidewalks. “We had no idea what the impact would be when we started the park. We just knew we needed to honor our children,” said Kirk Dooley, a friend of the Franklins and member of the original committee who spoke about the park’s history.

When his own son died, Dooley said, “we felt the love and the compassion that all the families have felt who have been affected by this park.”

Highland Park High School senior Nola Carroll sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” during the rededication, a reminder that the park is about unfulfilled promises, Dooley said after the ceremony.

Director of parks and recreation Sean Johnson and Marissa Mullens, who lost her daughter Molly in a car crash in March, unveiled a new plaque detailing the park’s history and telling of the “blonde-haired, blue eyed 3-year-old who loved to pick flowers” for whom it is named.

Dooley thanked all those whose efforts had made the park “live again.” “This is a park that was built by love,” he said. “It’s still a park created by love, and the love has only gotten better. And I appreciate you.” 

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