Had she lived, Rachel Crossett would be celebrating her 9th birthday on April 21. But she succumbed to cancer in July 2001 at age 6 — leaving a tremendous void in the lives of all who knew and loved her.
Now, though, her memory will live on in a fitting and tangible way in the form of a park that will bear her name. It's in Centreville's Pleasant Hill community where she lived, on the corner of Hidden Canyon Road and Riverland Run.
Thanks to a local, grassroots effort, it's been spruced up and revitalized with brand-new playground equipment. And Saturday, April 24, at 4 p.m., it will be officially dedicated as Rachel's Park.
Among those participating in the ceremony will be Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully). "Rachel was such an inspiration to and a much-loved member of the community," he said. "It's nice to see that she inspired improvements to this community park."
Known as Pleasant Hill Park, the land actually belongs to Fairfax County, but its playground equipment was removed, some nine years ago, and never replaced. And over the years, the park fell into disrepair.
However, Crossett family friend Sally Spaulding worked diligently to spearhead its renovation as a tribute to Rachel and to provide a nice place for local children to play. When she began, all that was left were a couple of picnic tables, part of a tube slide and a frame where swings used to be.
But now it contains two regular swings, two baby swings, a double slide, a curly slide, a small crawling-tube, a climbing wall, two animals on springs, a park bench and a covered picnic table under a canopy. There'll also be a plaque honoring Rachel's memory.
"The equipment went in, about a month ago, and people have already started using it," said Spaulding. "It was unusable before — there was nothing to do. Now, people have a place to go with their children."
But it took a lot of doing. The county intended to fix up the park someday — but no time soon. Then Spaulding learned about the Mastenbrook grant — a matching-fund program through which volunteers may donate money or in-kind services, such as park maintenance and landscaping.
Total cost to renovate the park was $40,000, and the county had already earmarked $20,000 for it. By the end of October, local fund-raisers yielded another $10,000, and the Mastenbrook fund matched it.
"I'm grateful that we were able to do something for the family," said Spaulding. "People in the neighborhood really came together. There are a lot of young kids in Virginia Run and Pleasant Hill, and other parks are far away, so it's something for the community. Already, mothers have come up and said, 'Thank you for taking the time to redo the park; my children and I really enjoy it.'"
"Now, mothers can walk there with their children, sit on the bench and watch them play," continued Spaulding. "And it's good for children to know that it's dedicated to a little girl who fought hard against cancer. They can think about her whenever they use the park."
All the landscaping is being done by J & M Landscaping, the business owned by Rachel's parents, Meg and Jim Crossett. "Rachel's favorite color was red, so we're planting red crepe myrtle and redbud trees — things that either bloom red or have red leaves," said her mother. "And roses were her favorite flower, so there'll be red-carpet roses."
Meg Crossett said she and her family have been to the revamped park a couple times and think it's terrific. "The kids love playing there," she said. "And it's a wonderful memento to Rachel; it really is fantastic."