The New Meadowbrook Playground

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Local News: Sunday, October 31, 2004
At Meadowbrook Park, the spirit of Annie plays on
By Jessica Blanchard
Seattle Times staff reporter

Lauren Yasuda, right, hugs Judy Williams, one of her daughter Annie's former teachers, at the renovated playground in Northeast Seattle now referred to as the Friends of Annie's Playground. The playground was dedicated yesterday in memory of the little girl, who died at age 2.

In Annie Yasuda's brief life, she found joy in everyday things: animals, hugs, meeting new people. But there were few things she loved more than a trip to Meadowbrook Park, across the street from her home in Northeast Seattle.

And so yesterday, nearly three years after Annie died suddenly in her sleep at age 2, about 150 family, friends and neighbors gathered to dedicate the park's renovated play area in her memory.

Children explored the playground's new concrete "cave" areas and clambered over new, top-of-the-line play structures, while adults admired the elaborate tile-mosaic murals that graced walls and benches.

The forecast had called for a blustery, drizzly day, but instead, "the sun is shining for Annie," said B.J. Brooks, Seattle Parks and Recreation deputy superintendent.

Lauren Yasuda, holding ceremonial scissors, her husband Glenn (to her left) and their children, Nate, 8, and Sophie, 5, along with some helpers, open the playground renovated in memory of their daughter Annie. To the family's right are both sets of Annie's grandparents.

Annie's mother, Lauren Yasuda, tried to stave off tears as she thanked the volunteers and reminisced about Annie.

"Her joyfulness brought such light to our lives," she said. "And that's what we're hoping this playground brings to other people."

Annie's death in November 2001 was a blow to her entire family — Lauren, father Glenn, and their children Nate, 8, and 5-year-old Sophie, Annie's twin sister.

Annie had been healthy before she died, and her parents still aren't sure exactly what caused her death. Her case is being studied by a group that researches sudden, unexplained child deaths, Lauren Yasuda said.

The decision to help spruce up the dilapidated park across the street from their home was a spur-of-the-moment idea in the weeks after Annie's death, Yasuda said. "But it immediately just seemed right," she said.

Yasuda doesn't remember exactly how she did it — that period of her life just after Annie's death "is all a fog," she said — but somehow she was able to get the project's momentum going by contacting the city's Parks and Recreation Department and starting the grant-application process.

Though the Yasudas hadn't worked on a community project of this scope, they say it has been a positive learning experience and helped them build better relationships with their neighbors.

Sophie Yasuda, twin sister of Annie Yasuda, takes a turn on the monkey bars yesterday. Volunteers donated nearly 1,500 hours of work to renovate the playground that Annie loved.

The playground improvements were paid for with a combination of levy money and major maintenance money from Seattle Parks and Recreation, donations through the Friends of Annie's Playground group and $86,000 in neighborhood matching grants from the city.

Volunteers donated nearly 1,500 hours toward the renovation, much of it during a series of work parties last spring and summer, when they helped create and lay the thousands of tiles.

There have been challenges along the way: Fund raising didn't come naturally to Lauren, and the group had to occasionally jump through hoops to get city approval and line up grants.

But as she surveyed the children scrambling over the new playground equipment yesterday, Yasuda said the project has been "very fulfilling."

"It turned out just right," she said.