TOWN OF WALES, N.Y. (WIVB) — Whether it was softball, soccer, the drums, hockey or just with her friends, 9-year-old Katie Durkin loved to play. And so it’s fitting that so much more than a playground will be built in her honor on a nearly two-acre spot next to her school.
“We want to make this a reality not just for Katie, but for the community,” said Elizabeth Miller, Katie’s former soccer coach, family friend and president of the Wales Primary PTO.
They’re well on their way. In just five short weeks, family, friends and teammates have raised more than $115,000 for what will be called Butterfly Park. Miller estimates the final cost between $500,000 and $800,000.
“Butterfly is very significant to people who have died, and the presence around them,” Miller said.
It’s an amazing response, considering Saturday marks the group’s first public fundraiser.
Katie died in a crash police say was caused when a truck driven by 52-year-old Mark Korzelius crossed the center line into the path of the minivan in which she was riding.
He’s pleaded not guilty to charges of driving while impaired by drugs, vehicular manslaughter, and vehicular assault.
Katie’s friend Teddie Osinski, also 9, and Miller are left with the memory of a girl with a zest for life.
“When I retell the story, because some people don’t know what happened, it just brings back memories from when Katie was here,” Osinski said.
And the family knew they wanted to do something in her honor for the community.
Miller said the family “thought immediately: This has to go to the school. We have to build something at the school for these kids,” she said. “Katie loved the school, and this is where it needs to go.”
Starting as early as this fall, the grassy land next to Wales Primary School will be turned into a track, soccer field, basketball court, playground and pavilion.
“This park is going to be a celebration of Katie,” Miller said. “But we don’t want it to be the Katie Durkin park. Because 10 years down the road when these children come and enjoy this wonderful park, they won’t know the significance of that. But they will know the significance of what the butterfly means and what the saying Kind and Thoughtful in Everything means. Katie is the acronym in that.”
It’s a massive effort, but its intentions aren’t just to give local families a place to play. It’s turned the focus for her young friends from the death of a classmate to celebrating a life taken too soon.
“This community has been amazing,” Miller said. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. This has really brought out every bright spot in the community. Everybody. The parents have really worked together to try to talk to their children about that.”
“It’s true that all the kids are excited about tomorrow (Saturday),” she said. “They’ve forgotten about what happened, but they still will always remember her.”
But sometimes, you just need the support of a teammate.
“We try to make each other happy,” Teddie said. “She was on our soccer team, so before every game we we get in a circle put our heads down, and some of my teammates would start to cry. So we would always say, ‘It’s OK, you don’t need to cry. We know she’s in a better place now.”
Katie may never again play on a playground with her friends, at least physically. But those who knew her best, her friends, her teachers and teammates say they’ll know her memory, her sense of liveliness and fun, will be right alongside them when the new complex is finished.
The official launch of the “KATIE” collection and fundraiser takes place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at East Aurora Outfitters, 594 Main St. Find a link to the event by clicking here.