COLUMBIA — Laughter rang out as friends and family gathered under a large, white tent Thursday to break ground on the Christy Welliver memorial planned for Stephens Lake Park.
The project will be dedicated to local disability advocate Christy Welliver, who died August 2011. Welliver was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1985 and played an active role in the community through her work with organizations such as the Columbia Disabilities Commission and the Public Transportation Advisory Commission.
The date of the groundbreaking is significant in itself, as Thursday was the 96th birthday of Ruth Welliver, Christy Welliver's mother, who attended the event.
Nancy Rogers, whose parents were close friends with the Wellivers, fondly remembered the time their families spent together.
"Ruth would invite my parents to dinner, and they just loved to go over there," Rogers said. "Their house was like a second home."
City Parks and Recreation director Mike Griggs opened the ceremony by saying that more than $22,000 had been raised for the project, which is expected to cost $21,961.
"That just shows the love that this community has for Christy and Ruth Welliver," Griggs said.
The memorial will have a bronze plaque mounted on a stone pedestal, a stone seating area and a butterfly garden. Plans also include landscaping improvements and maintenance upgrades such as repaved driveways and a new bicycle rack.
Other friends and family members were invited to share their memories of the Welliver family.
Deanna Harper, who worked with Christy Welliver for 18 years, remembered her as a determined and positive person.
"She got to see my kids grow for 18 years," Harper said. "She taught them that someone in a chair could be really cool."
Rob Weagley, a former classmate of Welliver's, said he appreciated Christy's good heart and kind nature.
"She had a gentle manner, a reassuring smile and a resilient spirit," Weagley said. "When you would touch Christy's hand, her smile would get twice as big."
A public hearing for the memorial is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the Columbia City Council meeting. Construction will begin once the project is approved. Until then, Christy Welliver's loved ones will savor her memory.
"This is the perfect location to honor Christy," said Chuck Graham, former Missouri state senator and family friend. "She used to say 'Everyday when you wake up you have to choose to be happy.' And she did."
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