Monday, May 03, 2010
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Beason volunteers build community playground in remembrance

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[May 03, 2010]  BEASON -- "Please, don't make your story about me," pleaded Jodi Duncan of Beason.

Looking out across the various pools of people working diligently on the playground equipment in the Beason town park, she said that the story should be about the people of the community and how they have all come together to turn something terrible into something good.

On Sept. 21, 2009, the tiny town of Beason, with a population of only 100 souls, was shook to its core as they learned that five of those souls had been lost, in a heinous, unimaginably violent criminal act.

Law enforcement agencies ranging from the local sheriff's department, to Lincoln city police, the Illinois State Police and even the FBI put together the Gee Homicide Task Force. The unit spent hours upon hours of concentrated effort examining the evidence left behind in the Gee family home, questioning the townspeople and following hundreds of leads and tips.


The tragedy of the event was broadcast and published nationwide, and Beason for a time became the center of local and national attention. But not in a good way.

On Oct. 1, 2009, Logan County Sheriff Steve Nichols announced that an arrest had been made. With one suspect in custody, the following days would produce additional arrests of alleged suspects and accomplices.

As the crime appeared to be solved, the media frenzy died down and the people of Beason were left alone to grieve.

Duncan, who is the Beason postmaster, knew the Gee family, just as she knows everyone else in the little community.

Of the lives lost, there were three children: Justina and Dillen Constant and Austin Gee. She knew the children, had spent time visiting with them, and in her heart she felt like something good needed to come from all the bad the town had suffered.

By the first of the year, Duncan had come up with an idea. The town park, which was under the township's jurisdiction, was in much need of a facelift. In addition, if money could be raised, it wouldn't hurt to add a few more items to the playground to make it more inviting to local children.

With the idea fully developed in her mind, she took to the streets.

"I didn't want to do (something) nobody wanted to do," she explained. She talked to most everyone in the town, and everyone seemed to be in favor of her idea.

Next she visited the township council and presented her idea there. They too were in favor of her plan and gave permission for the park to be upgraded and renamed the Constant-Gee Memorial Playground.

When Duncan asked the community to come together for a meeting, about 15 people came and the work began from there.

The group worked together, dividing a large undertaking into several smaller ones; they set up 11 committees, each with a task that needed to be done.

As plans were put together, it became clear that the money needed to complete the project would come to approximately $20,000.

As the group began their fundraising, Duncan said that the responses they got came from all over central Illinois. She cited businesses, clubs and others in the Clinton, Bloomington, Mount Pulaski, Decatur and Springfield areas that sent funding their way.

Genia Lock, who has been in involved from the beginning, also noted the Pennies for Playgrounds drive that they did. Children from Carroll Catholic, Chester-East Lincoln, Lincoln Community High School, Lincoln Junior High School and Mount Pulaski Elementary School brought their pocket change and donated it to the fund drive. She said the total from that alone exceeded $2,000.

Duncan also commented that especially the contributions from Mount Pulaski and Carroll Catholic were pleasant surprises, as none of the Gee children was associated with those schools, yet they still felt the need to pitch in and help out.

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Duncan said that whether it was a handful of change, a dollar or even $500 to $1,000, every dime and nickel was appreciated, and it all made a difference in reaching their goal.

She noted that there were some $1,000 gifts, among them East Lincoln Farmers Grain and the Chester-East Community Club.

As the group approached their final fundraiser on April 24, the committee had raised about half of the needed $20,000. When the Oddfellow and Rebekah lodges each donated $1,500, they knew they were going to make it.

And make it they did. In fact they exceeded their $20,000 goal, which gave them a little breathing room for unexpected expenses.

In addition to monetary donations, Duncan said the group wanted to acknowledge Area Disposal, which provided a large trash bin and haul-away service for the day; Pat Lee Trucking, which hauled in the gravel they needed; and Scott Goodman Excavating, which donated all the earthmoving that had to be done to erect the jungle gym and safe play area.

The memorial stone placed on the northwest corner of the park was gifted to the park by Dave and Genia Lock of Beason. Sue Fitzpatrick and Edwina Ellegood will work to surround the stone with landscaping mulch and live plants.

At 7 a.m. Saturday a group of 50 men, women and children, ranging in ages from 10 to 70, all gathered together to build a tribute to lives lost.

As a team worked on building a jungle gym, another group was pulling planks off old picnic table frames and replacing them with new wood. In one corner new horseshoe tossing ranges were being erected, while in another corner Justin Trago and Rob McBrien worked on contouring new boards for the teeter-totters.

McBrien said that everything in the park would be refurbished. He drew attention to three new benches lying on the ground across the way.

"Each one of the benches has one of the kids' names on it," he said. "They'll be put up, and a tree will be planted behind each one."

Lock added a few words about the community as a whole, saying that from this tragedy has come some good.

"This has brought the community closer together," she said.

So in the end, the story may revolve somewhat around Duncan, but it really isn't about just her. It's about community, it's about caring and giving, and it's about grieving and healing, it's about prayer and blessing, and it's about moving on.

On May 16, there will be a special day of remembrance for the Gee family children. It will begin with a church service in the park, followed by a potluck dinner and an official dedication renaming the park the "Constant-Gee Memorial Playground."


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