Annie’s Playground ten years later: Reflections from Annie’s family and friends on turning their sorrow into the laughter of children

Annie McGann Cumpston
January 7, 1997 – March 23, 2003
(All photos from the Cumpston Family and Annie’s Playground unless otherwise noted)
Dove released by Tom and Megan Cumpston at the grand opening of Annie’s Playground in 2005
Ten years after the opening of Annie’s Playground in Fallston’s Edgeley Grove Park, the family and friends of Annie McGann Cumpston are planning a spectacular fundraiser to make repairs and improvements. “Annie’s EGGstravaganza” will be held there on the morning of April 4 from 10 am to 1 pm. 
Read more about this fun-filled event for the entire family here in “Annie’s EGGstravaganza: Reserve April 4 for fun-filled family event at Annie’s Playground” in “God is in the Clouds.”
Remembering Annie:
There are no words to properly express what it means to lose a child. But the outpouring of love and support from the community provided the lifeline that the Cumpston Family needed most.
I invited Annie’s family and close friends to reflect on what Annie’s Playground has meant to them and what their hopes are for “Annie’s EGGstravaganza.”
“She is dancing in the wind.”
Annie’s Mom shared her heartbreak with us yesterday as she reflected on the loss of her second daughter in 2003:
“Annie’s Playground meant finding a reason to smile again. I would do anything in the world to have my daughter here with me today and I know that our family will never be the same again, but I will be eternally grateful for the loving community that came together and helped us pick up the pieces of our tragic loss.  

“When I could not find any good coming out of our loss, our family and friends were able see beyond. The playground means that I get to see my little girl everyday in the smiles of other children. To me, it is almost like a safe haven where all those who have been lost too soon can watch over and protect those who visit. 

“The experience was bittersweet, but it meant finding acceptance. I truly believe that our sweet Angel is present in the laughter, the excited screams as children slide down slides, the courage as they complete the monkey bars for the first time, and the thrill as they get higher on the swings. She is dancing in the wind.”
—Megan McGann Cumpston
Tom Cumpston preparing Annie’s memorial for the playground.

Annie will be watching over everyone…
Annie’s sister Alice reflected:
“Annie was always so very happy, always with a smile on her face. What she loved most was putting smiles on everyone’s faces and making sure that they were okay. Annie’s Playground is a huge comfort to me and my family as we know that it brings so much good and happiness to all who come to play there. I know that Annie would want nothing more than to see all who come to her beautiful playground with smiling faces have the opportunity to spend time with their family. We all wish nothing more in the world than to have had more time with Annie.

“Annie’s Playground is all about remembering Annie and all of those who were lost and will never be
forgotten. It symbolizes coming together to be with your family and loved ones. I hope many people come to Annie’s EGGtravaganza with their families to enjoy the playground and share smiles and laughter. I know that Annie will be watching over everyone and smiling along with us.

“She truly brings comfort and happiness because I know she is always there by my side, and with the help of everyone coming together at Annie’s Playground, we can return that love and security that she has been giving us, while paying tribute to Annie and all of those who we have dearly lost.”
—Alice Cumpston, Annie’s sister, a junior at The John Carroll School
Annie’s sisters (from left) Susie, Maddi, and Alice at a family wedding in April of 2014
“… family, fun, and remembrance”
From Annie’s sister Maddi:
“Annie’s Playground means family, fun, and remembrance. To me, it means family because it not only brings my family together, but many other families who are also looking to have fun and to hangout. No matter your age, I know that when you go to Annie’s Playground you will have so much fun and many laughs. Annie’s Playground is about remembering my sister for her admirable life. It reminds me of how many people knew and loved her for her sweet and loving personality through all of the bricks placed in her garden.

“For this year’s EGGstravaganza, my hopes are for many more people to come and experience the fun and enjoyment that we all had last year. I encourage people of all ages, young and old, to come out and just have a good time with their friends, while searching for Easter Eggs, and remembering our sweet Angel Annie.”
—Madelyn Cumpston, Annie’s sister, 8th grade student at St. Margaret School, Bel Air
___
“…. finding acceptance in tragedy”

From Annie’s older sister Susie:
“Annie’s playground means finding acceptance in tragedy. It means comfort in knowing that she will never be forgotten and that every day she plays a role in children’s happiness and laughter. Annie’s playground means helping other families cope with the loss of a loved one in knowing that this playground was built in memory of all lives taken too soon. For me personally, it meant doing one last thing for my little sister here on earth until we see each other again.”
“My hopes for Annie’s EGGstravanganza is the ability to raise enough money so that the playground can look shiny and new so when every child visits it for the first time they get to experience Annie’s Playground in it’s best form!”
—Susan Cumpston, Annie’s sister, sophomore at James Madison University 
Video Memorial:

Susie dedicated her 2013 John Carroll senior project to recording her sister’s legacy:
Susie hopes to keep her sister’s memory alive through this most-touching video.
“… the single most enlightening experience of my life.  God was there that week.”


From Annie’s Aunt Erin:
“Helping to build Annie’s Playground stands alone as the single most enlightening experience of my life.  God was there that week.  Any doubts about his existence and the goodness and selflessness of people were washed away for me.  Seeing a community of strangers come together to help heal a family was a gift to my family.  Knowing that Annie’s beautiful little life would live on in this magical place brought me some peace that is intangible and hard to explain.  As the years have passed and I see all those lovely families enjoying that little slice of heaven makes my heart sing.  Yes, I’d rather have Annie here with us but she is everywhere for all those families that never even knew her.  It is my great hope that people who go there will learn the greatest lesson…life is precarious and full of challenges, so hold dear to all the moments you have with loved ones.  Embrace the joy they bring.”
— Erin McGann Kleinman, Annie’s aunt
“Jesus lives here. Annie lives here too. Joy lives here.”
From Annie’s Aunt Lisa:
“Annie’s Playground is the embodiment of living with hope. Annie’s family took a most tragic event and with faith, hope and the love of their family, friends, and countless members of our community created this treasured playground. 

“Our family worked through much of the darkest times of Annie’s death through the creation of this playground. It is a place of joy. For me personally, when I hit hard times in my life, I search for joy, big joy, because that is where I feel Jesus’ presence most. Jesus’ joy comforts me and pulls me through the darkest times. Jesus lives here. Annie lives here too. Joy lives here.

“To me, the playground is a living breathing thing that it still being created as more families share their stories of loss through the many plaques, plantings, memorials and bricks. These same families come to Annie’s to spend time with their loved ones, finding new ways to experience the joy and hope that life still offers. What a testament to the human race that when we lose a loved little one, we eventually go to where the little children are. We go to the playground.

“The playground is an open invitation for all of us to focus on what is most important in life. The Easter EGGstravaganza is a wonderful way for us to pass on to our children the practice of living life with the hope and joy.”
—Lisa McGann, Annie’s aunt
— 

“… to witness joy in the Spring”
From Annie’s godmother and Aunt Lorene:
“Annie’s playground was built not only in memory of Annie, but all those who have gone on to a better place. It is a reminder that although we deeply loved, we will never lose the memories of how they touched not only our lives, but many others as well.

“Life must go one and hearing the laughter and seeing the smiles of all who enjoy the playground reminds us of this. ‘Mama Annie’ — as we called her, because she had so much compassion for others — is looking after all those who visit the Memorial Bricks and is able to help them have peace in their hearts.  

“This EGGstravaganza will bring the community together to witness joy in the Spring, which is the beginning of a time of regrowth. With extensive advertisement, it will reach more people who might not know about this magical place. EGGstravaganza is enjoyed by the children, the parents, grandparents and all those who remember the excitement of collecting Easter eggs and the thrill of what’s inside them!”  
Lorene Cumpston Tompros, Annie’s aunt and godmother

After Annie’s death, Mrs. Tompros wrote and illustrated “Trampoline Angel Annie and the Visit to Heaven,” a book about death and grief for children..
To order a copy, email Lorene at: reenie4@comcast.net.

She also coordinates the memorial bricks at the playground.


For more info on the memorials at Annie’s Playground, click here.
“… what a community can achieve when they come together”
From Sharon Perfetti, who served as general coordinator for Annie’s Playground:
“For me, Annie’s Playground represents what a community can achieve when they come together to support each other. While Annie’s Playground was one hundred percent inspired by Annie and the desire to remember her life, it grew to include so many other children who were lost too soon.  

“And then the thousands of people who came out over the three week build to make it all come to fruition. When we started the Annie’s Playground project our goal was to know that someone, somewhere would be saying Annie’s name every day. And I do believe we might have achieved that goal.

“The EGGstravanza is another example of the community gathering in Annie’s name and memory while getting the chance to enjoy their own families.”
—Sharon Perfetti, longtime Cumpston Family friend and co-founder of the Cool Kids Campaign, was general coordinator for Annie’s Playground which was built by thousands of volunteers in late September and early October, 2005.
Mrs. Perfetti also oversees “The Stories Between” website which shares the stories of those who have gone before us.
“… helped us greatly in our healing process.”
Kelli Szczybor, who lost a young son in 1998, is passionate about the memorial aspect of Annie’s Playground: 
“Annie’s playground has been a special place for many families. 

“For our family, it began during construction. We got to volunteer with hundreds of strangers from the community to create this beautiful place for each of our children in memory of a special little girl that was taken from us way too soon. It was a great feeling working together as a team for such a happy project, even though our hearts were heavy with the loss of Annie. 

“But to this day, we point out that part of Annie’s playground that we helped to put together! It makes you feel so special. 

“Annie’s Playground has brought my family so much peace as well. My son Ryan passed away in 1998 at the age of 15 months. We were able to sponsor a slide in Annie’s playground in memory of my son. We also bought a brick paver in the memorial garden with his name on it. 

“This helped us greatly in our healing process. For years, I have been able to take my children to play at Annie’s, and while they run and play, I was able to sit in the memorial garden and be at peace in my thoughts. What a treasure! 

“It always makes me smile when I pull up to Annie’s at any day of the week and the parking lot is full!  I always think to myself, “Wow, Annie, look at how many families you have made happy today!”
—Kelli Szczybor 
Special Note:
Kelli and her husband Andy Szczybor have spearheaded another memorial playground, “Angel Park” in Perry Hall in memory of their son Ryan who died of leukemia at the age of fifteen months.
Watch this video about Angel Park which was produced by JC graduate George Stover and Adventure Productions:
“… to escape, to play, to laugh…”
Family friend and committee member Steve Lutche reflected:

“Annie’s playground is an everlasting tribute to Annie who inspired an entire community who came together to build something so good in spite of something so tragic. Annie continues to live with us today through her family and the playground, and she continues to protect and watch over her friends and loved ones. She left us all way too soon. She is our Angel Annie.  

“The playground has done so much good. It continues to be a destination for all, the young, the old, for all their families, to enjoy the activities, to escape, to play, to laugh.  It is part of our family, having helped from the very beginning to make it a reality for our generation and those to come. It is peaceful, yet vibrant. 

“The EGGstravaganza will continue the celebration of all the playground represents, and the celebration of Annie, an innocent, vibrant, and loving young child who left us too soon, but who continues to inspire.”
—Stephen W. Lutche, Esquire
“… being able to witness the innocent joy of children…”
“Annie’s Playground is a special part of Harford County because it is a place to remember those that we lost too young, while still being able to witness the innocent joy of children who may not understand why the playground was built. It is a place that we can remember the joy that Annie & Kurt brought to our lives everyday. 

“Hopefully this event will help Annie’s Foundation raise the money necessary for the upkeep of this special place.”
—Meaghan Owens, on behalf of The Kurt M. Chenowith Foundation
For more info on the memorials at Annie’s Playground, click here.
“… through the laughter of the children”
Amanda Brannan could have been Annie’s classmate today:
“I never got the chance to meet Annie, but I have been able to meet the rest of her family. Annie’s playground is a safe place that I like to go to during the summer. This past summer I was training for my 39-mile walk in New York. I would walk the Ma and Pa Trail and stop at Annie’s playground to have lunch. I loved stopping there at Annie’s and just thinking about her. 

“Annie would have been in my John Carroll Class. She lives on not just through the St. Margaret School and John Carroll communities, but through the laughter of the children that come to Annie’s playground.”
—Amanda Brannan, senior, John Carroll Class of 2015
“… memories and fun times.”

More memories from another John Carroll student:
“To me and my family, Annie’s Playground means memories and fun times. As kids, my parents used to always take us to Annie’s playground. There we would play ‘capture the flag’ or ‘hide and go seek’ or, my favorite, ‘tag.’ We could run around there for hours! 

“Now, when we take my little sister to play there, I typically take a friend or two and we take a walk along the scenic pathway.

“For the upcoming fundraiser, I hope it is a huge success so that current and future kids will always be able to make the long lasting memories that my family and friends and I were able to make!”

—Reiley Overend, freshman, John Carroll Class of 2018
Members of the John Carroll Class of 2015 gathered with the Cumpston Family in May, 2014 after Mass.
Then-juniors, the students pictured were kindergarten classmates of Annie at nearby St. Margaret School.
The Cumpston Family also honor Annie’s memory annually with scholarships at John Carroll and St. Margaret’s.
 
(Photo by Patti Murphy Dohn)

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