Community celebrates Anna and Abby's Yard
From city officials to caring nonprofits, wood carvers to designers, and big donations to small, countless people contributed to a project meant to honor the lives of two children in Forest Grove — something far from lost on the girls' mother.
Susan Dieter-Robinson was there Monday, Dec. 28, as Anna and Abby's Yard, named for Anna Dieter-Eckert and Abigail Robinson, officially opened at Rogers Park.
The girls, Anna and Abby, died in 2013. The play area that bears their name will provide joy to other children for years to come.
"We don't look at our daughters' lives as a tragedy," Dieter-Robinson said. "For us, there was a second of our daughters' lives that was tragic, but there was so much more to them than that.
"What we really want our daughters to be remembered for is what they did in their life and what they've done since then — spreading love and joy."
That "love and joy" is now on display, after more than six months of construction, several years of planning and thousands of donations.
"It's really everything," Dieter-Robinson said. "There are truly no words for what our hearts feel trying to explain the size of the gift this park is to our family. To actually see the community that has loved and supported us over the last seven years in the space, it's extraordinary."
In many ways, Anna and Abby's Yard is like any play area, offering climbing structures, swings, benches and more. But in addition to toys, it offers Love Rocks, a mailbox to heaven, a giant wood-carved dragon named "Wilder," and an overall sense that this isn't just any park, but a symbol of hope.
"The park is not our daughters' legacy," Dieter-Robinson said. "It's the feeling you get when you're in the space, that's their legacy."
Rather than focusing on the accident that took their lives, Dieter-Robinson and her husband, Tom, choose only to refer to their daughters as having "gone to heaven" that fall day in 2013. It's not something a parent can simply move past.
"When we left the park that first Monday, we came home and our lives were no different," Dieter-Robinson said. "Our girls are still gone, and every second of every day, we feel that pain. But what this difficult time has given us is the ability to find hope in really hard times, and I think that's what Anna and Abby's Yard is."
Susan and Tom married in 2011, and for their wedding, young Anna and Abby decorated rocks with hearts — Love Rocks — for the wedding's guests. Susan later launched a Love Rocks Facebook page and tutored others in the art, and as part of Anna and Abby's Yard, patrons can find Love Rocks scattered throughout the playground.
Also as part of the play area, visitors will find wood parts built from a giant sequoia tree donated by the Fitzgerald family after the 148-year-old, nearly 200-foot-tall tree was removed in 2018 from a yard across the street from Rogers Park.
There's also a plaque built into a boulder commemorating Anna and Abby, inscribed with words meant to honor and educate visitors about the play area's namesakes.
Alice, Susan and Tom's 5-year-old daughter, never got to meet her sisters. Instead, she's gotten to know them through pictures, stories from her parents, and now the park, which has already become a special place for the girl with a couple of pretty special "guardian angels."
"When Alice is playing and making new friends at the park, I'd like to think Anna and Abigail have a hand in that and that it's their way of taking care of their sister.
"Last week, we were leaving the park and as we were walking out, she turned around and went back to the giant rock with the plaque and put her hand on both their faces, then turned around to us and said, 'I'm ready now.'"
Susan said she lacked words to properly thank the countless people who made the "Yard" possible, but she cited individuals like Forest Grove parks director Tom Gamble and supervisor Matt Baum; Chris Frank and Melissa Erickson from the MIG design team; Tony Velarde from Carlton Lake Specialty Sawmill, who carved "Wilder;" nonprofit Harper's Playground; contractors Kodiak Construction and Pacific Construction; the Fitzgerald family; and "dear friend" Martha Rainey as priceless to the process.
She also noted the numerous community members who donated their own valuable funds to the construction of the park, including kids who would leave bags of change from their lemonade stands on her front porch.
"There's never going to be a day that we wake up and say, 'I'm so glad we got through that,' because that's never ending," Dieter-Robinson said. "But this park, Love Rocks, all of the people who helped this come together — they have a special place in our hearts. When you lose a child, you never feel like you'll ever experience joy again, but they've brought us joy, and that is extraordinary."
In the end, Dieter-Robinson hopes that Anna and Abby's Yard will help people know and remember who her daughters truly were.
"Anna and Abigail were real people, with real feelings, who did real things, and a lot of people in our community never knew them," Dieter-Robinson said. "All they know is their accident, and my job as their mom is to make sure people know who they really were and what made them so incredible."
For more information, visit love-rocks.org.
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