By BRANDIE KESSLER
Special to Tri County
EAST COVENTRY - The East Coventry Ele-mentary School community came together last Tuesday to remember a little boy who touched the hearts of many and to dedicate a playground in his memory.
"It is not the years in your life that count - it is the life in your years," said school principal Ryan Monaghan, using the words of Abraham Lincoln in reference to Nathan Mowrer, who lost his battle with an uncommon brain disease at just 7 years old.
Monaghan said the playground was a testament to the type of community East Coventry is and the love and joy Nathan brought to it. He said dedicating the playground was a celebration of many things, including teamwork, passion, putting children first and Nathan's amazing spirit, which has inspired thousands of people.
Nathan was a student at East Coventry Elementary School, which his siblings Leanne and Daniel still attend, when he died in 2004.
Erin Schneider, Na-than's kindergarten teach-er, said the Nathan Mowrer Memorial Committee was formed to raise money to build a playground - which East Coventry Elementary has needed for some time - that would honor Nathan's memory.
"On Aug. 31, 2004, we said goodbye to Nathan Mowrer," Schneider said in a voice filled with emotion as she stood before the students, teachers and parents who gathered for the dedication. The faces of adults and children showed eyes welled up with tears as Schneider spoke of the little boy who had touched her life.
"Many of us who knew and loved Nathan wanted a way to keep his memory alive," Schneider said. "Together we made a decision that what Nathan brought to the people in his life was smiles and laughter and what better way to spread joy than a new playground."
Schneider said the generosity of the school community, through a variety of fundraisers, raised about $30,000 to purchase the playground equipment. Teachers, students and community members then worked to raise the more than $22,000 needed to install the playground equipment.
"You all reached into your hearts and gave what you could," Schneider said to the gathering.
In addition to monetary contributions, Schneider said completing the playground wouldn't have been possible without support from Darrell Guest Excavating, which donated time, labor and equipment to the project; the Owen J. Roberts School District, including Superintendent Myra Forrest and principal Monaghan; the school board for helping to coordinate the project; the OJR Education Foundation for its financial contributions; Gordan Eadie Associates for three shade trees planted near the playground; the fifth-grade class of 2005-06 for a large shade tree; and Martin Stone Quarry for stone it donated for the playground.
Additionally, Schneider thanked Nathan's family for their support of the playground and for their time in helping make the project happen.
As part of the celebration, students cheered when they learned they would have a piece of cake with their lunch donated for the occasion by the PTA.
Schneider said everyone is invited to play on the playground because it was a community effort to have it installed. She wants people who stop by the playground, at the rear of East Coventry Elementary School, to notice that there's a lot of empty space on the wood chips where she hopes additional equipment will one day be installed to continue the Nathan Mowrer Memorial.
She is also hopeful that the memorial committee will be able to raise enough money in the near future to purchase benches and to mark the playground with a permanent memorial sign that will read: "Nathan's Playground. May the smiles and laughter of the children forever be a reminder of the joy he brought to our hearts. Nathan D. Mowrer. 1997-2004."
If you would like to help finish the playground, send a check payable to the Nathan Mowrer Memorial Fund, c/o Phoenixville Bank and Trust, P.O. Box 708, 120 Main St., Phoenixville, PA 19460-0708, ATTN: Eleanor. For more information on the disease Nathan had, called mitochondrial encephalopathy lactic acidosis and stroke-like symptoms, or MELAS, visit www.umdf.org.