By Jasmine Willis
WAYLAND – A butterfly garden and Cortland Apple Tree has been planted at the Dinky Doo Petting Zoo to honor the memory of Leah Clark.
Leah Clark, 6, of Wayland lost her young life in a car accident on Sept. 14 and it changed everything for the family, community, and all those whose lives were impacted.
Cherie Carter, Dinky Doo Petting Zoo and Pony Rides Too owner planned a dedication ceremony with the family on Nov. 8 to pay tribute to the first grader. A bench donated by Dinky Doo Petting Zoo and built by Joseph Wayside Market in Naples was placed in the garden. Rob Harder provided a blessing over the garden and Cortland Apple Tree. He also wrote a poem for little Leah Clark. Jessica Levinson, of Atlanta provided the Cortland Apple Tree with help from E.J. Cottrell Memorial Library. A white Christmas Tree filled with handcrafted butterfly ornaments is placed in the garden. Photos of Leah Clark rest against flower pots.
“Leah was in my daughter’s class for one day before this happened. My daughter had a chance to meet her but I did not. I heard about it from her. She heard about the accident at school. She got into the van after school and told me she had something to tell me. She told me about Leah dying and how very sad she was about it since Leah was going to be her friend,” Levinson said. “This whole thing broke my heart and I knew I had to reach out and do something. I thought what can I do? God put on my heart to have a living memorial for Leah. I made sure it was just right for her.”
Levinson reached out to Carter about what was allowed on the property and what the family would be comfortable with. The tree idea seemed to make everyone feel good.
“I knew I needed to reach out about donations. I contacted the Atlanta Library. Belinda (Schuler) didn’t hesitate at all or ask any questions. She just did what needed to be done to raise the money in one day for the tree. After we had to money raised for the tree my husband was the one who got online to order it. He didn’t ask any questions about it. He just is a great guy who knew how important this was to me and the community,” she said. “The tree came all the way from Oregon. What is unique about a Cortland Apple Tree is that when they are cut open and exposed to the air, they remain crisp. This tree will last a long time. It will bloom in time for the spring and we will have fresh apples to feed the horses. I know Leah’s spirit will be smiling down on that.”
Levinson added that Carter has been very generous and embraced the family in this tragedy. It is important to all come together like this to grieve.
Jessica Williams, Leah’s aunt said the butterfly garden and apple tree was a beautiful idea to honor her niece. There is a 50/50 Raffle at Smitty’s in Wayland right now to help pay for the damage to the sign. The cross that marks her memorial site was built by Leah’s uncles, Leo Bricks and Garret Williams. The photos came from family friend, Chloe Maxim.
“My youngest daughter is the same age as Leah. They were best friends their whole lives. They grew up together. Her dad (Derek Clark) took her to the zoo a lot. She loved everything about this place. She loved all of the animals. Leah was little miss mommy all of the time. She loved babies. She had a crazy kitten that had a wild personality that matched. She would mommy that kitty.”
Carter gave the opening remarks at the dedication ceremony.
“This is very near and dear to my heart. I lost a twin sister. The community needs to come together and we need to try and support each other. We need to try and correct what is going on in our world. If we don’t step up and try to help those that need helping, we are going to lose more. It is not only the children … it is the adults too. We try to save the children. We try to make things right. We all know we do not live in a perfect world. This is a prime example,” she said. “Dinky Doo, myself, and my wonderful volunteers have been talking about it for a year or so. I want to have a community hub here. I want people that need a shoulder, need an ear, need a hug, or just need to have a seat to have a place to go. You are welcome here anytime. Day or night.”
Carter added that there will be programs for children to learn self confidence and that they are loved. They will have a safe place to come.
“If there is any parent out there that feels they have a child that needs to come and stay here a day or two I am all for it. We are also going to have programs very near to our hearts for the adults. We are going to have to spread the word. We are going to have to be the community that turns this ball in the right direction. Downtown they are doing great jobs. I am not knocking anyone. But they are too paperwork. They are not personal. We are personal,” she said. “A lot of people we have here have had moments in the trenches and lost loved ones. We are here to help everyone get through it. I would love for anyone who would like to be part of our hub to come and talk to me.”
Harder gave the blessings for the dedication ceremony.
“Dear Father in Heaven bless this place that is Leah’s Place. Let it be a haven for people to come and watch. Watch the tree grow strong; it’s branches reaching towards Heaven. With its blossoms looking so beautiful and smelling so sweet. Let people come here to remember Leah and talk to her. I know she is listening. Let it be a reminder of how precious life is. I would like everyone to look around you at all the faces and know we all came here to bear our grief, show our support, and above all show our love,” he said. “I wrote a little poem for Leah. Little Lamb of God with eyes so bright, they shine like diamonds, in Heaven’s night. All that we need to remember you by, is to look up at night, at Heaven’s sky.”
Carter will have a Monarch Butterfly Pin in honor of Leah Clark out back in the zoo. By springtime she plans on having a day of release in honor of her memory. It will be labeled Leah’s Butterflies.
Dinky Doo Petting Zoo and Pony Rides Too is located at 1864 Rt. 63 in Wayland. They are open Friday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It can be reached at 585-978-5611.
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