When the community gathered for the 10th anniversary of Ben’s Red Swings Saturday, there were two impressive announcements.
Some $4,000 was donated for the popular playground, named for little Ben Layton, who died of leukemia in 2002 when he was 4 years old. The Elks Club gave $2,000 and the community donated another $2,000, for upkeep of the facility, and to use toward building restrooms at the playground.
And, Boy Scout Douglas Buck told Hendrika and Chris Layton, Ben’s parents, that his Eagle Scout project is to place a permanent Little Free Library at the playground.
“We love it. It shows that the community support is continuing,” said Hendrika Layton, mother of little Ben, who would be 16 today.
Buck will dedicate the red-roofed box to Bryan White, district executive of the Tri-County Delmarva Scout Council, who gave him the idea before White died suddenly. His mother, Linda White of Laurel, brushed away tears as Buck discussed the project and Hendrika Layton hugged her.
“The concept is, you get a book and you keep it for life,” said Buck. Friends of the Wicomico County Library and the public will donate books.
“It’s a great idea,” Chris Layton told Buck. “It will make kids read more.” Ben was too little to read, but he enjoyed hearing stories, his father said.
Ben’s older brother, Josh, drew the logo for the playground when he was 7. It shows Ben with red wings and a halo, on a swing and the swing, too, has wings.
“I was always artistically challenged,” a tall, handsome Josh said, laughing, as he visited the playground Saturday. His little brother knew he was dying and wished for red wings in heaven, because that was his favorite color.
Ben and Josh used to play in the park where Ben’s Red Swings is now. Their father did, too, as a child, and remembered it as being in such disrepair he called it “medieval.”
The family got the idea to renovate the site, adjacent to the zoo, in Ben’s name, so generations of children could enjoy it in his memory. Community residents were so generous, that 4,000 people helped plan and build it and donations were given.
“I’ve never seen anything like that. There was such an outpouring,” Chris Layton said.
On the 10th anniversary Saturday, children played there, including 17-month-old Alice Showell-Hartogs, with her mother Jennifer Showell.
“It’s a very nice playground and a great way to honor Ben’s memory. It the nicest park I’ve seen. She has been enjoying that slide,” she said about her little girl.
That morning, about 400 people participated in the Ben Layton Memorial 5K Run and 2-Mile Fun Walk, to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
More money is needed for the restrooms and to add a softer, rubberized surface. So far, more than $250,000 has been raised and there’s a push for an additional $50,000. Chris Layton said the city will help with construction of restrooms.
“The people in this city surprised us beyond our wildest dreams,” Hendrika Layton said. “It has really been great.”
Reach Susan Canfora at email@example.com.