By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
NEW MIDDLETOWN -- Paul Wassam never got to see the playground that was named after him.
But those who knew him at Free Methodist Community Church thought it would be a fitting tribute to a man who symbolized joy.
"He could never have been able to play on things like this when he was a child, but yet he was always smiling," said church council member Zonda Haase. "As a church, we wanted to do something to honor his life and let his legacy live on."
The church, which sits on state Route 170 just north of the village, built the playground as a means of reaching out to younger families looking for a church to attend, Haase said.
She said Shirley Heck, a Springfield Township trustee, urged church leaders to pursue a grant through the Mahoning County Recycling Division, known as the Green Team, which periodically awards grants to nonprofit organizations.
"I was stunned when we got the full amount we had asked for," Haase said, pointing out it was the first time the church had been through the grant process.
What it features
The $15,800 grant was used to buy and install playground equipment, including a Noah's Ark activity center and an oversized teeter-totter built to hold up to 10 children.
There also was a gazebo and two picnic tables, one of which is accessible to people in wheelchairs.
All the equipment is made from recycled materials. The ground in the play area is covered with wood chips, also provided by the Green Team.
Church member Corey Persing coordinated the project.
Haase said the playground was completed and dedicated in July and has been open to community children since. A photo of Wassam hangs near the front of the playground, which is named "Paul Wassam Village."
Wassam was a mentally retarded man who attended the church for years. He was 58 when he died in 2002.
He suffered physical impairments, including club feet, that left him unable to play on playgrounds like other children.
"We thought this [playground] would be a wonderful tribute to his life," Haase said.
She said the church intends to seek more grant funding and expand the playground.