In Third Ward’s Frazier Park, you’ll find a brick path and surrounding gardens filled with memories of more than 1,500 people – babies, children and adults – who have died. But each one is still loved and remembered by their families and friends.
Our Children’s Memorial Walkway will hold a special public service of remembrance Dec. 8 at 5 p.m. Luminarias will be offered for $10 beginning at 4:30 p.m..
The idea of Our Children’s Memorial Walkway came about through a mother’s grief, and over the years it has become a place of healing for hundreds who have lost loved ones.
Jerry Mudge, 71, lost her two sons in 1990. When Wayne Jonas, 28, and Leon Jonas Jr., 29, were killed in a car crash, she said, she felt her life was over as well.
“I didn’t cry in public. I thought that since I was Christian, I should be able to handle it. I thought I had to be strong for my husband and daughter. But that was wrong,” Mudge said.
“On June 29, 1991, I prayed that God would give me cancer and take me. But then I heard Wayne’s voice saying, ‘Mama, you can’t go. You’ve got work to do.’ ”
That work began with a memorial garden in Mudge’s front yard the next year, brought to life by a group of friends. They planted bulbs, flowers and other plants to celebrate the lives of Wayne and Leon.
“It meant the world to me, and my friends felt good because there was finally something they could do for me,” Mudge said.
She and her friend, Jewell Funderburk, who had lost her son to murder, started dreaming of a memorial garden on a much larger scale.
Mudge’s husband, Leon Jonas, died of cancer in 1995; Jewell died the next year.
But Jerry Mudge continued to work – and heal. She met widower Skip Mudge in a singles class at Hickory Grove Baptist Church. He had lost a son to suicide in 1987.
The two soon were married, and both firmly committed to making a public memorial garden a reality. They formed a board of directors made up of various organizations that dealt with bereavement, and they started making plans.
In December 1999, Mecklenburg County approved construction of a brick walkway in Third Ward’s Frazier Park, and Our Children’s Memorial Walkway was born.
Grants and donations paid for the renovations. Benches were added. Bulbs were planted. A few statues of children were placed around the path. Little by little, a place of hope and healing was developed.
The walkway now contains bricks memorializing people from 20 states and other countries. Originally designed as a way to remember children, it now has pavers memorializing people of all ages – the oldest is 93. Services are held there several times each year, giving folks a chance to remember the ones they still love.
“One of the biggest fears you have when you lose a child is that people are going to forget that child. People need somewhere to go to remember their children. Cemeteries are a place of death, of sadness. But this is a place to celebrate life,” Mudge said.
Our Children’s Memorial Walkway is one of many nonprofits listed in The Charlotte Observer’s annual Giving Guide. Behinds these groups you will find many of your neighbors and friends who are feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, comforting the hurt, rescuing stray or unwanted animals and providing other services. Whatever your passion, you’re sure to find a way you can volunteer to make life a little better for someone, or some animal, in need. Find the complete list at www.charlotteobserver.com/giving.
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Melinda? Email her at email@example.com.
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