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Sometimes when I’m jogging or walking through one of Lawrence’s downtown parks, I’ll pause to sit on a bench. The break provides me with moments of reflection and opportunities to observe. Often, the bench includes a commemorative plaque — a unique way of remembering a loved one while providing a tangible benefit to the community.
Not long ago, while sitting on a bench in Burcham Park, I noticed a plaque for a young man named Spencer Michael Haynes. The quote on the plaque made me smile: “Nothing like spending time with a beautiful woman that makes life’s problems magically disappear for a while.” Locating Spencer’s obituary online, I was able to learn more about his life and decided to post the experience on Instagram.
Andy White, a photographer for the University of Kansas, saw the post and messaged me that his wife’s mother had recently passed away and that the family was working with the city to have a bench installed in Constant Park, northeast of Sixth and Tennessee streets.
White introduced me to his father-in-law, Lanny Genosky, who visited with me about the passing of his wife of 55 years, Rachel Elaine Genosky, and his decision to donate a bench to the park in Rachel’s memory.
Two years ago, Rachel, who worked as a paraeducator in the Lawrence schools, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, a sarcoma of the soft tissue. During her treatment, an oncologist at KU Medical Center asked her “What’s on your bucket list? If you could do anything, what would it be?”
Her answer was simple, Lanny said: “She loved working with kids. These kids were challenging, they had physical and emotional issues, but there was literally nothing else she’d rather do. There was no bucket list.”
The work Rachel loved ceased when public schools closed because of COVID-19 in 2020. Still, she was able to continue helping others by working for Trinity Home Health Care and in other in-home caretaking positions for a few more months.
Unfortunately, however, despite chemotherapy, Rachel’s cancer spread swiftly and gradually took away her abilities to care for herself. Lanny provided her care in their home until she died on June 7.
Lanny and Rachel had lived in Old West Lawrence and Pinkney for 15 years. They enjoyed walking in the city parks nearby and downtown.
“Rachel loved Constant Park,” Lanny recalled. “She would stop at the very spot her bench is now, look toward the river and exclaim how much she loved Lawrence and the view from that spot.”
As Rachel lost her mobility, Lanny would continue to go on walks. He started noticing benches with plaques and began reading them. “I thought they were special,” he said. “I was moved by them.”
After his wife’s passing, Lanny thought that perhaps a bench at Constant Park would be a special memorial for Rachel and those who loved her. He called the city to inquire about donating a bench, and was referred to Mark Hecker, the assistant director of the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department (LPRD). LPRD administers the Lawrence Bench Program, which began about 10 years ago at the Lawrence Rotary Arboretum.
Lanny and Hecker met at Constant Park, at the spot where Rachel would declare how much she loved Lawrence and the view. “There were no benches nearby and Mr. Hecker thought it would be a perfect place for a bench,” Lanny said.
The process of donating a bench is collaborative, Hecker says: “We often receive a call from someone who has an idea, and we help them refine it.” It’s important the placement of a bench be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and that it be installed in a place that will not create difficulties for city staff that maintains the grounds. LPRD also accepts donations for other park-related items, such as drinking fountains, play areas, playground equipment and even pavilions.
A bench can cost between $1,000 and $2,000. Metal benches are preferred because of their durability. Pouring the concrete base and installation is another $500-$700. The addition of a plaque, which is ordered privately by the family, is usually around $250.
Lanny said he thought it would be a lot more expensive than it was.
“I’m so grateful to the city,” he said. “I didn’t realize we could do this.”
For Lanny, the bench is a special remembrance of his life with Rachel and their walks in the park.
“It’s a place I can go to remember Rachel; it’s a place that had significance to her,” he says. “When I look at that view, I see it through her eyes. It’s an intimate place. I can feel her presence.”