September 9, 2008

Repaying a Friend’s Loyalty

By Jane Gargas

She would have loved it.

The gentle slide, the gradually sloping steps, the crossbars just the right height.

The Nedra Callard Joy in the Lives of Children Memorial Playground -- also called, "A Children's Garden" -- at McClure School would have pleased Callard immensely.

"It's the perfect memorial for Nedra," said Helen Peterson, longtime friend.

Callard, who died in 2005, was one of the first two elementary school counselors in the Yakima School District when she was hired in 1959. She worked with children in every elementary school in the district during the next 18 years.

After retirement, she consulted for Yakima Valley Community College in preschool education programs.

Noting that Callard touched many lives in the community, a group of volunteers and school personnel have worked for the last three years to create a proper memorial.

And now they have.

When children started school at McClure last week, they found a new playground designed for children younger than elementary age, as well as those with special needs.

During a recent morning recess -- called motor time -- 20 children played gleefully on the new playground, under the watchful eye of developmental preschool teachers Cori Kinder and Jane Butler- Nix.

Butler-Nix recalled that in past years preschoolers found the taller, larger equipment on the playground difficult for climbing, while Kinder pointed out that the new equipment is "much better for children with limited movement or balance problems."

The new playground reached completion through the efforts of the Yakima Schools Foundation, which headed up the campaign to raise money for the equipment.

"That's what the foundation is all about -- stepping in to meet needs that the school district can't," explained Patty Dion, executive director.

Retired elementary principal Jim Meyer, who helped spearhead the fundraising, explained that he and other volunteers wanted a tangible memorial that demonstrated how much Callard believed in early childhood education.

Both Meyer and Dion credited Peterson for making sure the playground reach fruition.

"She championed this," Dion said.

Once $20,000 was collected to buy and install play equipment, the school district readied the McClure site.

McClure principal Del Carmichael, who knew and admired Callard, said the playground is aptly dedicated.

"What a nice way to honor someone whose name is synonymous with early childhood education," he said.

Becky Scholl, the school district's executive director of student services, said the new equipment has fulfilled a long-term project. She served on a committee that began assessing playground needs at various elementary schools about seven years ago. The group determined that five schools could use play equipment geared for smaller children -- Martin Luther King, Barge-Lincoln, Adams, Hoover and McClure.

Through the years, various clubs and volunteers raised funds until specially designed play equipment was installed at each of the schools, one by one. McClure's is the final one to be completed.

"Nedra would be joyous with the playground," Scholl said. "She treasured children for who they were and what they could do."

Peterson, who was the district's manager of curriculum and instruction for 10-plus years, said her colleague would have particularly appreciated the accessible, adaptive aspect of the playground.

"Nedra was deeply involved with children who have special needs when she first came here, and she always advocated for them," Peterson recalled.

Now that McClure's playground is complete, Carmichael and Scholl hope volunteers will plant shade trees and other landscaping to fulfill the garden name.

For now, the early playground is just what Callard would have wanted, said Meyer.

"She made such an impact on this community and state. We knew we wanted to put something out there for her," he said.

"We couldn't just let her disappear in the sunset."

'A Children's Garden' dedicated to former school district pillar, the late Nedra Callard

Jane Gargas

Yakima Herald-Republic

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