Breckenridge child’s memory lives on through playground
August 20, 2012
A few children played in the park outside Breckenridge Elementary Monday morning, where, in the corner, there’s a stone wall inlaid with a plaque memorializing Pamela Grace Harris, a student who died Aug. 6, 1992. Its inscription, next to a picture of Pammy: “Built by the Breckenridge Community in loving memory of Pamela Grace Harris, whose radiant smile, joyful nature and courage touched everyone who knew her. Enjoy your time at Pammy’s Park! Through the spirit of laughter and play, Pammy will be in our hearts and memories forever.”
Michael Niemkiewicz went to Breckenridge Elementary as a child and remembers Pammy, who died from complications of pseudo-intestinal blockage syndrome just shy of her 10th birthday. When the now-father of two recently saw that about half the stone was falling off, he enlisted the help of a friend to fix it. The two did the work for free, and unbeknownst to Pammy’s parents, Tony and Annie Harris, who still reside in Summit County.
“Just seeing it in that shape was kind of sad to me,” Niemkiewicz said. “(Tony and Annie) were off doing a humanitarian mission in Rwanda, and I figured it would be nice to help out someone else who was helping someone else.”
The friend Niemkiewicz enlisted was Nate Finnerty, who has worked at Harris Construction, Inc. for Tony Harris for 13 years.
“They’re good people,” Finnerty said. “One of the reasons I wanted to help was because he’s done so much for the community, and I wanted to do something to help him … they probably didn’t have any idea. We just kind of did it.”
The Harrises, in fact, didn’t know, but were both pleasantly surprised to hear about the improvements.
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“I’m just very grateful for Nate and Michael, and the whole town for letting it happen,” Tony Harris said. “She was a terrific kid.”
Pammy’s parents say she was always happy, despite what she went through with the disorder – she was fed intravenously the last two years of her life.
“It never got her down, and her little classmates were just amazing,” Annie Harris said. “She had a lot of friends.”
Her classmates visited Pammy during a three-month stint in the hospital, and would argue over who was her best friend. Pammy loved doing aerobics alongside her mother, and her favorite movie was “Beaches,” which she watched in the hospital (She even met Bette Midler, courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation).
“Everyone in the community made her feel good about herself, she felt so loved,” Annie Harris said. “She had a short life, but it was a good life. We feel blessed to have had her.”
The community rallied around the Harris family after Pammy’s death, and came together to raise money for the park. The recent work of Niemkiewicz and Finnerty is just another example of how close-knit the town is, Annie Harris said.
“That’s what this community’s all about, it still is,” she said. “I guess that’s what parents who have lost a child want, for their child not to be forgotten.”