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Playground honoring Provo family killed in plane crash opens

By Braley Dodson daily Herald - | May 12, 2017
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Max Openshaw plants the flag on the jungle gym with the Provo Fire Department during the unveiling ceremony of the Openshaw Family Memorial Playground at Rock Canyon Elementary School on Friday, May 12, 2017 in Provo. While the tragedy of the Openshaw plane crash is still existent in the minds of many community members, the playground is aimed at personifying the family's memory, not the events of the tragic accident. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Kids play for the first time on the newly opened playground features during the unveiling ceremony of the Openshaw Family Memorial Playground at Rock Canyon Elementary School on Friday, May 12, 2017 in Provo. Much of the community came together to help raise funds for the playground. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Olivia Openshaw cuts the ribbons with her family during the unveiling ceremony of the Openshaw Family Memorial Playground at Rock Canyon Elementary School on Friday, May 12, 2017, in Provo. While the the tragedy of the Openshaw plane crash is still existent in the minds of many community members, the playground is aimed at personifying the family's memory, not the events of the tragic accident. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Kids play for the first time on the newly opened playground features during the unveiling ceremony of the Openshaw Family Memorial Playground at Rock Canyon Elementary School on Friday, May 12, 2017, in Provo. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

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Kids play for the first time on the newly opened playground features during the unveiling ceremony of the Openshaw Family Memorial Playground at Rock Canyon Elementary School on Friday, May 12, 2017, in Provo. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

The blue and yellow, two-story Openshaw Family Memorial Playground is one of the tallest in the Utah Valley, according to Dean Nielsen, the principal of Rock Canyon Elementary School.

That height, he said, is a testament to the family the structure honors.

“This family, in my opinion, deserves the highest marks for their service,” Nielsen said.

Family of the four members of the Openshaw family cut the ribbon to the memorial playground Friday evening at Rock Canyon Elementary School in Provo.

But it wasn’t a typical ribbon cutting. Instead of using a pair of large scissors to cut through a ribbon, family members used kindergarten scissors to cut through a banner signed by current Rock Canyon students.

The playground serves as a tribute to the four members of the Openshaw family who died in a 2015 plane crash in Missouri. Parents Amy and Mark died in the crash along with 15-year-old Tanner and 12-year old Ellie, two of their five children. Max, who was 5 at the time, survived the crash, and their other two sons, Zane and Porter, were abroad at the time.

The Openshaws were well known in the Provo and educational communities. Mark was a member of the Utah State Board of Education and Amy was a constant school volunteer and served as a PTA president. Mark was also a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

All of the children have attended Rock Canyon Elementary School and Max is currently a first grader there.

Max and a firefighter climbed up the ladder of a Provo Fire Department firetruck to put up a special memorial flag Friday. As the crowd cheered him on, Max unrolled the flag and waved as his grandfather, Terry Foster, gave him a thumbs up.

Kandy Foster, Amy’s mother, thought the playground was a fitting tribute for her daughter.

“She’s smiling down for sure,” she said.

There’s a mural behind the playground that contains Easter eggs about the family, like seals on rocks to represent where Amy grew up, a chicken riding a bike to show Ellie’s love for her chickens and a tree with “M+A” carved onto it and surrounded by a heart.

There’s other tributes on the playground itself, from a lion water fountain to honor Ellie’s love of lions and lots of slides for Tanner, a slide and reptile aficionado.

Mary Rencher, a friend of Amy’s and member of the playground committee, said they wanted to make the space special.

“Mark and Amy and Tanner and Ellie were so happy and fun-loving that this playground is a tribute to them,” Rencher said.

The committee started meeting a year ago to plan the playground. Rencher said the committee is thankful to support from Provo City School District, which gave the playground more space at the recently-rebuilt Rock Canyon Elementary School than was originally planned.

Rencher said the process of making the playground special came easy.

“It was always an act of love,” she said.

The Openshaw’s family were also given pins and named honorary Roadrunners.

Nielsen thanked the community and those who donated, which included individuals and businesses, at the ribbon cutting.

Multiple fundraisers were donate to raise money for the playground, including a jar at the front desk of the school, an online campaign, a concert and cash collected during a football game.

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