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Wishing Bench in East Lawrence rededicated, redecorated

A few dozen people gathered Saturday for the rededication of the Wishing Bench in East Lawrence. A few dozen more — third, fourth and fifth graders of New York Elementary School — were present through their works of art, created for the bench. 

But thoughts and memories of others who had touched and been touched by the bench filled out the bustling gathering. 

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The East Lawrence landmark sits at Ninth and Delaware streets and invites passers-by to “Sit and make a wish – You will not be disappointed.” 

Parts of the bench and all of the artwork that had covered it were destroyed in an overnight fire on Aug. 15. Perry-based Hamm Companies has an office just down the street, and President Jeff Hamm volunteered the company’s services to repair it. Within three weeks, the bench was restored, with the addition of a ramp so that wheelchair users can enjoy it, too. 

Decorations started to come back quickly — even before the bench was repaired — but it was still a little sparse. Within an hour on Saturday, just before the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association block party started at Hobbs Park, many of the open spaces were covered with balloons, flowers, works of art and other offerings. 

Slide between images of the Wishing Bench taken at 4:01 p.m. and at 5:12 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

Sadly, one of the pieces that was destroyed in the fire was one created by Catherine Reed, the longtime caretaker of the bench who died on May 25. 

Ginger Chance said it was strange how the piece had endured for years as other things come and go or fall apart.

“It was here to the very end,” said Chance, who will be taking over as the keeper of the bench “out of respect and love for Catherine Reed.” 

The meaning of the Wishing Bench is unique for all those who appreciate it. “It’s almost beyond the wishes” — it becomes very personal, and for some people it’s been part of personal healing, Chance said. 

Hopefully, the space will offer healing to family members of 3-year-old Roman Hardy, too. His mother and his twin sister, Mila, were among those in attendance Saturday. The boy died Sept. 9 after a very sudden illness. Cold-like symptoms progressed rapidly into a serious infection that caused his organs to fail within just 25 hours, according to a GoFundMe page set up to help pay for Mila’s college. He died in his parents’ arms. 

Several young girls decorated signs with messages, “We miss you Roro!” and “I love you Roman.” Many people in attendance did not realize the significance of the signs until the family had already left. But “That’s another amazing thing, that these children can have this grieving and love” in the space of the Wishing Bench, Chance said. 

Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Loved ones of 3-year-old Roman Hardy — including his twin sister, Mila, standing behind her sign at center — pose for a photo with signs honoring the boy’s memory, Sept. 25, 2021 at the Wishing Bench in East Lawrence. He died Sept. 9 after a sudden illness.

Tony Peterson, of East Lawrence, had been photographing the bench each week for about a year before it went up in flames. He said he’s thinking that eventually he wants to create a book, if he can find the funding to make it happen. 

He brought some contributions to the bench on Saturday: a small bottle of sand from the Bahamas, which came from a trip with his mother, and a trophy he found in the trash long ago for first place in a 2010 Skinny Guy Strength Competition.

Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Tony Peterson, who photographed the Wishing Bench weekly for a year before a fire destroyed its base and much of the artwork it once held, holds a small bottle of sand that he got on a trip to the Bahamas.
Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Peterson said he was waiting for the right time to rehome the bottle of sand and a trophy (for first place in a 2010 Skinny Guy Strength Competition) he found in the trash a long time ago. The Wishing Bench rededication on Sept. 25, 2021 was that right time.

Don E. Brennaman also stopped by to contribute to the bench. He brought a carousel greeting card holder, which can hold numerous decorations. It was placed on the platform behind the bench. Brennaman said he’d thought about using it for wind chimes. 

Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Don E. Brennaman, left, stopped by the Wishing Bench rededication Sept. 25, 2021 with a card display carousel that can be used to hold more decorations at the Wishing Bench.
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Barry Shalinsky, president of ELNA, and KT Walsh, vice president, spoke briefly to thank those in attendance Saturday, firefighters, and those who extended thoughts, prayers and well wishes after the fire. 

“All the love and support was overwhelming,” Shalinsky said. 

Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times KT Walsh and Barry Shalinsky, of East Lawrence, speak at the rededication of the Wishing Bench, Sept. 25, 2021.

Hamm and family were also present. 

“My wife’s been out here, my kids have been out here. We all enjoy the bench and it was just a great project for us and something that we’ve just really enjoyed doing, so I’m glad everybody enjoys it,” Jeff Hamm said. 

Shalinsky said that soon, the bench will have a new roof, too, thanks to Diamond Everley Roofing Contractors, another Perry business. 

But some of the scars from the fire will stay — and that was a very deliberate choice, Shalinsky said. 

“I really love all that melted, charred fiberglass residue up there because it’s not all pristine and shiny, you know? That’s part of its life and part of its history and part of its survival,” Shalinsky said. “That’s really like the story of early Lawrence, from Quantrill’s raid and the fire, and rebirthing stronger and more resilient.” 

Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Barry Shalinsky said he likes the melted, charred fiberglass on the bars of the Wishing Bench’s overhang. “It’s not all pristine and shiny,” he said.

Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Young community members look to add their touch to the Wishing Bench, Sept. 25, 2021.
Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Dot Nary, of Lawrence — now able to use the Wishing Bench because of the addition of a ramp — points to one of the creations of New York Elementary School students, Sept. 25, 2021 at the bench’s rededication.
Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times One of the youngest in attendance at the Wishing Bench rededication looks at a balloon and some material to add to the bench.
Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Art supplies — including lots of glitter — cover a table at the Wishing Bench rededication, Sept. 25, 2021 in East Lawrence.
Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Tony Peterson places decorated signs around the edges of the Wishing Bench after the rededication, Sept. 25, 2021.
Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Barry Shalinsky, president of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association, left, chats with Ginger Chance at the Wishing Bench rededication, Sept. 25, 2021. Tony Peterson sits nearby on the bench’s platform.
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Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times A note from New York Elementary School reads “Dear Wishing Bench, Dismayed by your current state and fueled by positive memories of our (very recent) childhoods, young artists of New York Elementary School had some ideas. In a creative exercise for art class we imagined, discussed, and put to paper designs for your rebirth. Some include preventative measures for fire 🙂 and others leave your fate to chance. We love you and look forward to making art for you soon! 3rd, 4th, 5th grade artists @ New York Elementary”
Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Works of New York Elementary School art teacher Catherine Meihaus’ students on display at the Wishing Bench rededication, Sept. 25, 2021.
Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Just an hour or so after the Wishing Bench rededication began on Sept. 25, 2021, many of the remaining sparse spaces were filled with colorful artwork, decorations and offerings of love.
Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Artwork, a pair of boots and other offerings are left at the Wishing Bench, Sept. 25, 2021.
Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times A motorcycle license plate was among contributions left at the Wishing Bench, Sept. 25, 2021.
Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Items including a sock hang from a large coil on the Wishing Bench, Sept. 25, 2021.
Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Artwork and children’s books in colorful baskets at the Wishing Bench, Sept. 25, 2021
Mackenzie Clark / The Lawrence Times Artwork, balloons, flowers and other offerings are left at the Wishing Bench, Sept. 25, 2021.
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Wishing Bench in East Lawrence rededicated, redecorated

A few dozen people gathered Saturday for the rededication of the Wishing Bench in East Lawrence, but thoughts and memories of others who had touched and been touched by the bench filled out the bustling gathering. 

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